Can the Pill Affect Your Moods?

February 15, 2011

August 1960 saw the first pill for birth control on the American market, called Enovid. In less than a year of its introduction, over 900,000 American women were using the pill, and it was widely heralded as being the most revolutionary form of birth control to date. Unfortunately, the side effects of the drug were downplayed, and the long-term effects were not yet known. Even when many women reported to their doctors that they were experiencing side effects including depression and anxiety, they were brushed off and told none of the side effects could be unequivocally linked to the birth control pill. Today, over ten million women use some form of the pill as their primary birth control method, and the last ten to twelve years has also brought hormonal patches which are changed weekly, implants, which can stay for three years, and injections, which are given every three months.

Pill History And Depression

While it is true that the pill of today has approximately one-fifth the amount of estrogen the original 1960 pill had, there still remain risks and consequences from synthetic estrogens and progestins. Although the warnings which come along with your pill pack will likely list possible side effects such as nausea, headaches or increased weight, there is little information or acknowledgement of another outcome many women on the pill experience-depression. The 1960's pamphlet which came with Enovid stated only that an "occasional" woman who took Enovid on a regular basis might possible experience some form of depression, but denied that Enovid would be directly related to that phenomenon should it occur. In other words, while Enovid may mess with your mental health, we're not saying there is a direct causal relationship between the two. Today, Pfizer, the company who manufactures the Demulen birth control pill, state in their warnings only that women who have prior depressive episodes should be "observed" and they should stop taking Demulen should their depression escalate to a "serious" degree.

While a majority of women who have taken hormonal birth control pills have experienced some degree of depressive symptoms, or at least knows a woman who has, there has been little solid research to back up these anecdotal claims. Australia's Monash University conducted a study which compared depression symptoms between users and non-users of the pill. The end results were that women on the pill rated their depression scale at 17.6, while the non-users rated their depression rate at 9.8 or lower. Many women report severe mood swings, crying over nothing, or feeling numb about their entire life. Over fifty percent of women who take some form of the pill reported wide mood swings, being more irritable than normal, experiencing irrational crying or feeling anxious and depressed. Over two-thirds of women who experienced these depressive symptoms noted either partial or complete recovery from their symptoms once they discontinued the pill.

Warning Labels

What is of possibly even greater concern, is that the vast majority of women on the pill were not given any indications at all that there could be depression or other mental health issues once they began taking the pill, and most said they felt their doctors were dismissive when told of the problems experienced. The progestin which is in most birth controls pills is a synthetic version of the natural female hormone progesterone. Progestin has been definitively shown to lower the brain levels of serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter in the brain which improves mood and promotes sleep and relaxation. Most people diagnosed with clinical depression have significantly lower levels of brain serotonin.

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