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The Effects Of Contraceptives On Mental Health

We’re all accustomed to the changes in our mood that occur before our monthly period.

Pain, irritability, feeling bloated and even depression are common conditions that women report as changes during their monthly cycle. But if you take contraceptives, can they have an effect on your mood? What are the effects of contraceptives on mental health? Researchers have found a connection in some studies, so let’s take a look. 

Using Hormonal Contraceptives 

Hormonal contraceptives such as most birth control pills, patches, and rings, contain two laboratory produced female sex hormones, estrogen and progestin. These combined hormonal contraceptives stop the rise and fall of your body’s natural hormones, stopping your body from ovulating and releasing an egg to be fertilized by sperm. That in turn prevents you from getting pregnant. 1

The Effects of Contraceptives

Researchers have found certain emotional and behavioral associations with contraceptive use. For instance, a review of several studies found that current contraceptive use was associated with an increase rate in: 2

  • depression
  • divorce
  • tranquilizer use
  • sexual dysfunction
  • suicide and other violent and accidental deaths

Researchers also found “substantial evidence” that these negative side effects are a result of emotional and behavioral properties. In other words, some women have a psychological response to the practice of contraception. 2

There was no difference found between women who used IUDs vs. oral contraceptives, no difference when the hormone concentrations were changed, and even those who were given a placebo faced the same side effects. The impact was found whenever the product was labeled as a contraceptive. 2

Scientists hypothesized based on the data that contraceptive activity itself is inherently damaging to women. But they did state that more studies should be conducted to better understand this psychological phenomenon. 2

Mental Health and Contraception

On the flipside, researchers also looked at contraception for those women who are suffering from a mental health issue. Depression and anxiety disorders are among the leading causes of disability in the United States and worldwide, and compared to men, U.S. women are 70% more likely to experience a depressive disorder and 60% more likely to experience an anxiety disorder. 3

Added to that, women with depression and anxiety are more at risk for an unintended pregnancy, and those pregnancies can lead to negative perinatal and postpartum outcomes. Scientists who have looked at this find gaps in the research, but conclude that mental health promotion may help lower adverse pregnancy-related outcomes. 3

It’s Not All Bad

There are studies that report more positive outcomes. For one, the Harvard Study of Moods and Cycles looked at the effect of oral contraceptives on mood. Researchers gathered data from 658 women, and examined whether their mood improved or worsened while taking an oral contraceptive. Here are the results:

  • 16.3% noted worsening of their mood
  • 12.3% experienced mood improvement
  • 71.4% had no change in their mood

Researchers noted that women with a history of depression were more likely to experience mood worsening, but even in that case, it was a small number who found their mood deteriorated (25%). 4

Another study of 6,654 women found that users of hormonal contraceptives had lower mean levels of depressive symptoms and were less likely to have attempted suicide in the previous year than women using other forms of contraception or no contraception. 4

What Does It All Mean?

Since studies have found different effects of contraceptives on mental health, it’s hard to know the effect contraceptives may have on you

Dr. Ruta Nonacs of the Massachusetts General Hospital Center for Women’s Mental Health provides this advice: 

“Before starting a birth control pill, women should talk to their clinicians about their history of depression. Those with a history of depression should be attentive to potential mood changes after starting an oral contraceptive; however, these studies taken together indicate that oral contraceptives may be a viable option for contraception for all women, including those with a history of depression.” 4

If you do use hormonal contraceptives, or any form of contraception, monitor your progress carefully when you start. If you notice changes in your mood, visit your doctor. If you haven’t yet chosen a contraceptive, discuss the pros and cons with your physician. Use our Physician Finder to seek a women’s health specialist in your area, to provide advice and support for contraception and other women’s health topics.

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