When the little round birth control pill debuted more than fifty years ago, women wanted to know: Is it safe? At the time, there really wasn’t much evidence to answer that question, but women embraced the pill as a revolutionary improvement in contraception.
Today, millions of women all over the globe use hormonal contraceptive that has expanded beyond the OG pill to implants, patches, uterine devices, and injections. Years and years of research support their safety, and serious — but rare — side effects such as blood clots are finally– and thankfully — much better understood. But other areas of research lag, and we still don’t know as much as we’d like to know about how these popular meds affect women’s mental health.
In this article, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about the link between hormonal birth control and depression. Are you ready? Let’s dive in!
Birth Control: What You Need To Know
At first, birth control was only prescribed to women with severe menstrual issues, and it wasn’t until 1969 that it became legal to prescribe the pill for contraception — that was only fifty years ago! We know; *mind blown*
Reported side effects of the very first pill to hit the market included headaches, dizziness, nausea, and blood clots. But most importantly, the side effects of the pill also included a lack of full disclosure and an even larger lack of relevant research on the psychological effects of the pill.
Since the ‘60s, the information available on birth control has grown quite a bit, as have birth control options available to women, but misinformation and knowledge gaps surrounding birth control remain prevalent. With the new options available, an even wider array of birth control side effects exist.
How Birth Control Works
Today, the pill comes in two categories: the combination pill and the mini-pill. The combo birth control pill contains Ethinyl estradiol, a form of estrogen, and a type of progestin, a form of progesterone. These two hormones naturally flood the body when women ovulate, creating many of the notorious symptoms we experience during PMS.
The mini-pill, on the other hand, contains only progestin but no estrogen. As a result of the deceased hormones in the mini-pill, it’s often labeled as a “safer” alternative to the combo pill — which is why it’s often prescribed to women who are breastfeeding due to overall decreased levels of common birth control side effects –, but this doesn’t mean there are no side effects!
Both estrogen and progesterone are hormones that impact our moods. Most ladies who have experienced PMS know firsthand how intense these impacts can be, so when you add more of these chemicals to the body via hormonal birth control — always exercise caution. Research reveals fluctuations in progesterone may include depression in some women, while certain estrogens have been linked to causing anxiety.
A Quick Note on Hormonal Birth Control
According to a recent study, scientists found a direct link between the pill and your mental state. They studied 90 women — 44 of whom were on the pill. The scientists compared the thickness of different areas of the brain between the two groups. They found that two specific regions of the brain — the posterior cingulate cortex and the lateral orbitofrontal cortex — appeared to be much thinner in those on the pill compared to those on their natural cycles. A bit of background: the posterior cingulate cortex helps us to evaluate our internal state of mind, while the lateral orbitofrontal cortex is what helps us regulate emotions in response to external stimuli.
And given that sex hormones strongly influence the nervous system and the brain, it makes perfect sense that the pill could be the reason why some ladies experience symptoms of depression and anxiety.
But the study is far from conclusive, so don’t go throwing out your pill packet just yet!
However, experts agree that there could be an indirect link: Common side effects of the pill include mood swings, but for those who are prone to depression, anxiety, and other mental symptoms, the pill may amplify these symptoms, ultimately increasing their severity.
What’s more, while some ladies experience negative mood changes on the pill, some experience the opposite reaction, feeling a whole lot better and mentally healthier on the pill than off it. Research also finds that the pill can offer major mood-stabilizing benefits to women who battle severe PMS.
At the end of the day, the most crucial thing about the pill’s effects will come from you: How do you feel on it?
What Can You Do If You Feel Like Your Birth Control Is Messing With Your Mood?
Okay, ladies — real talk: Think you might be suffering from birth control mood swings, including bouts of depression, and you want them to go away? Then it’s time for a conversation with your doc.
If you start a hormonal contraceptive and you notice a decline in your mood or anything less than your normal awesome and joyous self, make an appointment with your primary care provider to talk about your options. Listen, this is a medication, and you can choose to take it or not, but we want to make something crystal-clear — only a licensed health care practitioner can advise you about your birth control meds.
Sorry, not sorry, Dr. Google.
And if you chat with your doc and you feel they aren’t listening or telling you that it’s all in your head or simply aren’t picking up what you’re putting down — get a second opinion.
What Are Some of The TellTale Signs of Depression?
Depression can look different from person to person. Be alert to any mood changes you have when you take birth control. Symptoms of possible depression include:
- Lack of energy
- Feeling more tired than usual
- Having a difficult time concentrating or making a decision
- Feeling “empty” or hopeless
- Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
- Not enjoying your usual hobbies or activities
Call your doc right away if:
- You notice any of the above symptoms for more than two weeks
- Your mood is affecting your work, home, or school
- Your symptoms feel more severe than regular mood changes
How Can Women Prevent Experiencing Depression Symptoms When Trying Birth Control?
As always, it’s of the utmost importance that we are proactive with our health and communicate with our doctors about any concerns or emerging symptoms we may experience when trying a new form of birth control. Everyone is different and will respond differently to different forms of birth control, and depression symptoms and episodes will vary significantly from person to person.
Here are some things you can do to lessen the chance of mood swings:
Believe it or not, research shows that high sugar intake contributes to mood disorders like — *drum roll, please* — depression. Among other havoc, sugar spikes and then crashes your blood sugar, leaving you lethargic, moody, and craving more.
Most of your immune system — which regulates inflammation and so much more — resides in your gut. Your gut also manufactures many mood-modulating neurotransmitters, including serotonin (fun fact: up to 95 percent of serotonin gets made in your gut). Fixing your gut and providing the right nutrients can greatly help reduce symptoms like depression. You can do this by taking quality probiotics like Good Girl Probiotics from Love Wellness. This powerful supplement is made with eight strains of good bacteria to support the gut, whereas most probiotics only contain one.
Dial down stress
Studies show that chronic stress can rev up inflammation, and this contributes to mood disorders like depression. Thankfully, the Less Stress Kit from Love Wellness can help to keep you calm and resting peacefully at night while supporting digestion for overall bliss. Meditating and deep breathing is also a great way to reduce stress levels.
Try #Mood Pills
One effective way to turn that frown upside down is with a good quality supplement like #Mood Pills from Love Wellness that is designed to help you deal with occasional stress, frustration, and irritability. This super supplement can also be helpful to deal with fatigue and mild mood changes associated with PMS — thank goodness!
While many studies prove that there is indeed a link connecting birth control to depression, the truth is that more research is needed — so don’t go tossing your pill packet just yet! However, if you’re experiencing severe mood swings and don’t feel like yourself — speak up and let your doctor know. There are so many different forms of birth control, including non-hormonal options, and your doc can help to find which one works best for you.
To help keep your mood a happy one, head on over to Love Wellness and check out the Less Stress Kit and #Mood Pills. These powerful supplements will help to combat stress to leave you feeling nothing short of amazing.
Knowledge Gaps and Misinformation about Birth Control Methods Persist in 2016 (urban.org)
Psychiatric complications of progesterone and oral contraceptives (pubmed.ncbi.nim.nih.gov)
The Relationship Between Estrogens and Depression (verywellmind.com)
Human Brain Mapping (onlinelibrary.wiley.com)
Oral contraceptive use and psychiatric disorders in a nationally representative sample of women (pubmed.ncbi.nih.gov)
Sugar intake from sweet food and beverages, common mental disorder and depression: Prospective findings from the whitehall II study (nature.com)
From stress to inflammation and major depressive disorder: a social signal transduction theory of depression (pubmed.ncbi.nim.nih.gov)