Birth Control Linked to Depression, Especially Among Teen Girls

Research on more than 1 million women and girls finds use of hormonal birth control tied to use of antidepressants.

COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Women taking hormonal birth control are more likely to be diagnosed with depression, according to a new study — a link that is particularly pronounced among teenaged girls who use such drugs.

Published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Psychiatry, the study from the University of Copenhagen is the largest of its kind. It followed more than 1 million women in Denmark aged between 15 and 34 from 2000 until 2013, for an average of 6.4 years.

It found that adolescents taking a combined birth-control pill (containing both estrogen and progestogen) were 1.8 times (80%) more likely to get a first-time diagnosis of depression at a psychiatric hospital. Teens prescribed a progestin-only pill had a 2.2-times higher risk, and those using long-acting vaginal rings, implants, patches and depo-provera shots had three times the risk of depression after starting the drugs.

Overall, use of the combined oral contraceptive pill was linked to a 23% increased diagnosis of depression, and use of progestin-only pills (also known as “the mini-pill”) with a 34% increased risk. Other hormone-based methods commonly offered to women — such as the hormonal transdermal patch, vaginal ring and implant — increased depression rates even more than oral contraceptives. Patch and implant users had double the rate of depression, and vaginal ring users were 60% more likely to be diagnosed with the disorder.

Women have cited mood disorders as a reason for stopping the pill for decades, a finding substantiated in research, and a look at women’s internet chat rooms reveals depression is still a common experience among users.

Nikki Cosier, commenting on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s article about the study, was one of many who claimed contraceptives had altered her mental health: “I lost more than 10 years of my life to suicidal depression while I was on hormonal birth control. … My body displays a clear link between the two.”

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