There Is Now Compelling Evidence That The Contraceptive Pill Can Cause Depression

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Changing the game for reproductive rights since the 1960s, the contraceptive pill has been dubbed one of the most important scientific advances of the 20th century.

Professor Kulkarni from the Psychiatry Department at Monash University told Junkee “it was quite the social revolution and we must never forget that.”

“However that was in 1961 and you would think by 2022 that we’d have some good preparations that actually deliver the contraceptive safely but also don’t cause too many horrendous side effects,” said Kulkarni.

However despite this, sadly we’re not quite there.

Ava Gallagher had used the contraceptive pill but found her PMS symptoms became “10 times worse.”

“It like nothing I’d ever experienced. The breaking point for me was when I got to work one time and I just started crying before I’d even started working, like absolutely nothing had caused it. And it kind of clicked in my head that something wasn’t right,” she said.

When it comes to the pill the impacts it could be having on our mental health have been largely overlooked. But this could be changing as there’s been some compelling evidence building over the past ten years that contraceptive pills can cause depression.

What’s Causing The Depression?

Most contraceptive pills have two hormones: oestrogen and progesterone. Although synthetic progesterone in the pill is technically called the ‘progestin.’

Progesterone and oestrogen are two female hormones, which influence what’s going on in our brains for things like serotonin and dopamine. Most pills have both while some only have progesterone. From the little but significant research it’s the progesterone component of the pill which seems to be causing symptoms of depression or anxiety.

“Not all women but a significant proportion do experience either new depression, worsening depression, or anxiety symptoms as part of the depression,” said Professor Kulkarni.

A 2016 study of 1 million women in Denmark aged 15 to 34 looked at the link between the pill and future use of antidepressants or diagnosis of depression over 13 years. More than half of the women were current or recent users of contraception and a total of 133,178 first prescriptions of antidepressants and 23,077 first diagnosis of depression were detected during a 2015 follow-up.

Despite this clinical evidence the issue remains mostly unaddressed.

The History Of Side Effects

Things have improved since the first ever pill went to trial which is great news considering it caused nausea, vomiting, and increased risks of blood clots. In fact the first pill had way more hormones in it than needed to prevent pregnancy and it took scientists more than a decade to figure out the dangers of such high doses.

Why Aren’t We Warned About This?

“In particular we’ve struggled with this very odd [situation that] this is your brain and it’s all to do with mental health, [and that] your body particularly below the waist is to do with the pill. Which is crazy thinking because… we cannot say what happens with the sex hormones, either natural or synthetic, is nothing to do with your brain. It has everything to do with your brain,” Professor Kulkarni said.

Because of this disconnect that Professor Kulkarni is talking about, testing for depression or anxiety in clinical trials before the pill gets to market isn’t a thing. Which means such data isn’t provided to primary health care practices.

For Rebeka Manibog, she was on the same dosage of the pill for seven years and had to learn how to control her emotions.

“When I was starting on them, it was so hard. Like the panic attacks were extremely brutal and I experienced so many emotions that were so unnecessary,” Rebeka told Junkee.

Ava had similar experiences with her contraception, in that she wasn’t really “told about any of the other alternatives, like the rod or the IUD”.

“I was just put on the generic pill. I went back to the same GP and rather than giving me the alternatives, she said you can either stop contraception or you can go onto another pill.”

Ava told Junkee that she was then put me on Yaz, which thankfully actually did really work for her. “It didn’t affect my emotions like femme-tab, which is a generic pill. But again, I wasn’t warned of the side effects,” she said.

Ultimately the biggest roadblock to getting a really good pill to market that doesn’t create mental health problems is a lack of funding for research and clinical trials.

Professor Kulkarni puts that down to this strange perception that the pill is still an optional extra for people, when it should be treated like any necessary medications.