Can hormonal birth control affect mental health?

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Can hormonal birth control affect mental health?

Many women report that they stopped taking hormonal birth control because it caused depression. Researchers still don't have clear evidence of the link between hormonal birth control and mood, but recent evidence suggests that women who are using hormonal birth control may experience higher rates of depression.

If you're considering or currently using a form of hormonal birth control, you'll want to learn a little bit about what is known today about hormonal birth control and depression.

The role that hormones play

Once they reach puberty, women are twice as likely as men to be diagnosed with a mood disorder or a cyclical mood disorder. Experts believe that estrogen and progesterone, the most important female sex hormones for puberty, play a role in this. Estrogen and progesterone help regulate women's sexual and reproductive development.

How does hormonal birth control factor in?

Hormonal birth control contains either estrogen, progestin, or both, depending on the type you use. Increased amounts of these hormones prevent pregnancy, and cause the more common side effects of birth control, like a lighter period, a thicker cervical mucus, or sore breasts.

Because these hormones have mood-related effects, there has always been a question of whether or not hormonal birth control causes side effects like depression.

What does the research say?

Researchers have been studying this for decades, and the results are mixed. Some studies have found that hormonal birth control was linked with higher rates of depression, while other studies found that hormonal birth control alleviated rates of depression in a sample.

A study from the University of Copenhagen published in 2016 found that women in the study who were using hormonal birth control (the pill, the patch, the ring, or a progestin-containing intrauterine device) were diagnosed with depression and prescribed antidepressants more often than women who weren't on hormonal birth control. This difference was especially pronounced among young women ages 15-19, and women who were on progestin-only pills were more likely to be diagnosed with depression than women on another form of hormonal birth control.  

What other factors could be at play?

In the case of hormonal birth control and depression, it's important to consider a few different things that might factor into the equation.

The bottom line?

Ultimately, there's no one specific answer to the question of whether or not birth control will affect someone's mental health. But it's possible that there is a link between the two, and you shouldn't dismiss any negative mood changes while on hormonal birth control. Here are some things you can do to protect your mental health:

If you do notice anything, you should talk to your provider right away so that you can switch methods and treat any side effects that you're experiencing. For many women, hormonal contraception is an extremely helpful and effective form of birth control. But what matters most is whether or not it's right for you.

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