A large study linking hormonal contraceptives to depression pretty much confirms what many women already knew. A study was conducted at the University of Copenhagen that looked at over 1 million women over the course of 19 years and found a small but clear jump in signs of depression. Notably, the risk of depression increased most among adolescents.
“Millions of women worldwide use hormonal contraception,” researchers wrote in the study’s summary. “Despite the clinical evidence of an influence of hormonal contraception on some women’s mood, associations between the use of hormonal contraception and mood disturbances remain inadequately addressed.”
According to the study, women on the combined contraceptive pill – which mixes estrogen and progestin – were 23 percent more likely to be prescribed antidepressants while those on progestin-only pills were 34 percent more likely. For teens aged 15 to 19, this spiked to 80 percent.
The trend also occurs with non-oral contraceptives like the patch, vaginal rings, and hormonal IUDs. Interestingly, an earlier study found that mood changes are one of the main reasons women discontinue using the pill within the first year.
Reactions were heated on both sides following the findings. Some birth control pill users felt the study vindicated their own suspicions. Skeptics on the other hand reminded us that the study doesn’t prove causation. Confounding factors like possibly love-sickness or heartbreak might possibly explain the spike.
Birth control critic Holly Grigg-Spall called the skeptics out by referring to their rationalizations as “pillsplaining” in an article for the Guardian.
“It’s apparently acceptable to blame women’s depression on the fact that they’re women, but it’s not OK to claim a powerful medication formulated from synthetic hormones could be at fault,” Grigg-Spall wrote.
For now, scientists of the study suggest more research be done to confirm whether depression is truly a side effect of taking hormonal contraception.
If the study has you asking why men don’t have as many birth control options to choose from, you’re not alone. On top of the cultural stigma surrounding a male birth control pill, another big reason for the delay is that the science simply isn’t ready yet.
As David Sokal, M.D., chair and director of the Male Contraception Initiative, said to Vice: “Unfortunately, there’s a basic physiological difference, and that is that it’s easy to fool the ovaries with a very low dose of hormones to make the ovaries think a woman is pregnant, and so the ovaries will stop ovulation. However, there’s no similar situation for male sperm production; there’s no normal state where sperm production stops.”
So a male pill that works without major side effects is still under research. Meanwhile, non-hormonal options are also being looked at. One relatively new but promising solution works by injecting a contraceptive polymer into the vas deferens to stop sperm on their way out. It’s called Vasalgel and aims to get to clinical trial by 2017. Getting the product to market would still be years away.
But there’s no shortage of demand. People may have believed contraception was more a woman’s responsibility decades ago but attitudes are changing. More men today want the option of sharing the burden of contraception.