The Pill and depression: a correlation we cannot ignore

Image: Wikimedia. The combined pill is over 99% effective in preventing pregnancy.

Image: Wikimedia. The combined pill is over 99% effective in preventing pregnancy.

On September 28, a team of Danish scientists published the results of a six and a half year- long study linking hormonal contraception with depression. This is the largest study of its kind; a total of 1,061,997 women aged 15 to 34 participated. The study included women taking both kinds of oral contraceptive (combined and progesterone only), users of a patch (norgestrolmin) and users of users of a levonorgestrel intrauterine system (brand name Mirena® in the UK).

Depression, noted in the study as either a filled prescription for antidepressants or a recorded diagnosis by a medical professional, affects 2.6 in 100 adults in the UK every year, according to Mind, a mental health charity.

From the data gathered in Denmark, it seems that taking the combined pill increased the risk of a woman aged between 20 and 34 being prescribed antidepressants by 23 per cent.  A levonorgestrel intrauterine system appears to increase the likelihood of a depression diagnosis by 40 per cent.  The largest increase for both diagnosis of depression and prescription of contraceptives were seen in users of the hormonal patch, with a 100% increase in recorded depression signs.

Incidents of depression in teenagers (aged 15 to 18) taking the combined contraceptive pill who had no previous experience of mental health issues increased by 80% – from 1% in the general population of younger women to 1.8%.  Why the impact is greater on younger minds is not clear, but the NHS currently pushes longer term contraception to young women and perhaps this many lead to more GPs taking more time to discuss alternative contraception methods with their patients.

For those who have experienced mood-affecting side effects of hormonal contraceptives, this research couldn’t come soon enough. In fact, mood changes are one of the main reasons women stop taking the pill within the first year. Many women have felt that their concerns and experiences with the psychological and emotional problems from the prescription have been too easily dismissed.

However it should be noted that this is only a statistical analysis of the data, and though the research team did control for many variables it cannot yet be said what causes the link; correlation is not causation.

There are some things however that are not up for dispute. Depression is very real, and if you are concerned about yourself or others then please seek out help.

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