A massive study released last month found the use of hormonal contraception may be linked to first diagnosis of depression and first time use of antidepressants, suggesting that mental illness could be a serious side effect of multiple contraceptives. But before you panic and stop taking your contraceptive, we take a closer look at the research and what this means for you.
Finding the link
Dr Øjvind Lidegaard from the University of Copenhagen in Denmark led the 13-year study, following one million girls and women, aged 15 to 34. Over the course of the study, 55.5% of the participants were on hormonal contraception at some stage, with the remaining 44.5% having never used hormonal contraceptives or taken them long before the trial. None of the participants had ever been diagnosed with depression or prescribed antidepressants in the past.
The research looked at the increased risk of several common hormonal contraception options, including:
- oral contraceptives
- progestogen-only pill
- contraceptive patch (containing norelgestromin)
- vaginal ring (containing etonogestrel)
- intrauterine device or IUD (containing levonorgestrel)
The most popular type of oral contraceptive pill was found to increase the likelihood of an antidepressant prescription by 23% (compared to non-users), with progestogen-only pills increasing the likelihood even further, to 34%.
What other research is saying
Side effects of the pill have long been documented, with research showing oral contraception may be associated with an increased risk of thrombosis (blood clots), and breast and cervical cancer. The relationship between hormonal contraception and mood, particularly depression and the pill, is also a well-researched area, with studies showing hormonal contraception can have varying impact on mental health, encouraging doctors to prescribe on a case-by-case basis.
However we also need to remember that there are also some well documented benefits of hormonal contraception. It can improve symptoms that can come with periods such as pain, mood swings and headaches, can improve acne it lessens the risk of cancer of the ovaries and uterus.
What do these findings mean for you?
With studies showing the oral contraceptive pill is the popular choice of contraception here in Australia, and Medibank Better Health Index data finding 21.6% of Australian women under 50 suffer from depression, what do the findings mean for you?
Medibank’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr Linda Swan said:
Firstly, we need to remember that since the oral contraceptive pill has been used by millions of women around the world since the 1960s –and in addition to preventing unwanted pregnancies, it has proven to have many benefits.
Whilst this study indicates there might be a link between contraceptives and depression, more research is required to determine exactly how the two are connected. Most importantly, make sure you talk to your doctor before making any changes to your contraception.”
Read more about what’s impacting the mental health of Australians.