The Link Between Birth Control and Depression: Should Women Be Worried?


A new study suggests there's a link between hormonal birth control and depression. Anne Rippy/Getty Images
A new study suggests there's a link between hormonal birth control and depression. Anne Rippy/Getty Images

A Danish study linking birth control and depression has been getting a lot of attention, as Cristen Conger points out in the "Stuff Mom Never Told You" video above.

The study analyzed health data for a whopping 1 million women in Denmark ages 15-34 years, using a national database. It's the first study to say there might be a link between depression and birth control, study co-author Dr. Ojvind Lidegaard told the Washington Post.

The researchers measured depression as either being diagnosed at a psychiatric hospital or filling a prescription for antidepressants. In this article, we'll be talking about those who filled a prescription since that particular behavior was far more common than the other among participants.

Here's what the researchers found: Of the women not on hormonal birth control (HBC), 1.7 percent were on antidepressants, while of those on HBC, 2.2 percent were on antidepressants. That's a small increase. But when the scientists broke it down further, they learned:

            Taking a birth control pill combining estrogen and progestin carried a 23 percent elevated risk of depression.

Taking a progestin-only pill had a 34 percent elevated risk of depression.

Taking a hormonal IUD (not the copper IUD) had a 40 percent increased risk of depression.

Teens (ages 15-19) had an 80 percent increased risk of depression on the combined birth control pill.

However, Lidegaard, a clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Copenhagen, cautioned that most women who use HBC will not become depressed. And an earlier study showed that teenage girls who become sexually active are more prone to depression.

So, before you decide to ditch the pill, Conger say there are three things to keep in mind:

1.       Some critics of the study have pointed out that sex, romance and relationships (reasons most people are on birth control) also can lead to depression. So, it can be hard to say whether the pill is causing depression or not.

2.       Hormonal birth control can stabilize mood disorders like PMDD (premenstrual dysphoric disorder).

3.       Unintended pregnancies are also linked to postpartum and maternal depression.

For more information on birth control, head over to the "Stuff Mom Never Told You" website or listen to this podcast.