An expert weighs in on EVERYTHING we’re wondering.
by Danielle Sinay
According to a recent study, women who take the birth control pill are more likely to be treated for depression – and it’s even worse when you’re a teenage girl. 23% of women taking the pill were prescribed antidepressants, most often within the first six months, but when it came to teens, the numbers were significantly higher: a whopping 80% of teenage girls were treated for depression when on the pill, as opposed to those who aren’t on the contraceptive.
That’s a lot of teenage girls.
While studies of the sort must always be taken with a grain of salt, since hormones and birth control affect everyone differently, it’s important to consider all potential side effects of anything you put in your body. So we asked Katherine Cornforth, M.D. and OB/GYN with the Institute for Women’s Health all about birth control: whether it causes depression, when to start taking it, why you should take it, and much, much more. Read on for all of your questions on birth control, answered.
Does birth control actually cause depression?
Studies have shown that the synthetic versions of estrogen and progestin in birth control pills has the possibility to decrease serotonin, a neurotransmitter that is associated with depression when low. However, some women actually take birth control bills to regulate their moods. Every patient – and every patient’s reaction to a new medication – is different.
Why do teenage girls suffer more from (alleged) birth-control induced depression than others?
During puberty, the flood of hormones adolescents and teenagers experience can lead to multiple side effects, including moodiness. But having mood swings and experiencing a consistent depressive state are not the same thing. That said, it may appear that teenage girls are suffering more from alleged birth-control induced depression, but that could be a combination of the natural influx of hormones as their bodies go through the many changes they experience during puberty.
Do all forms of birth control cause mental health issues?
Absolutely not. There are many forms of birth control, both hormonal and non-hormonal, which can effectively prevent unplanned pregnancies. I work closely with my patients to determine which form of birth control will be best for their lifestyle and life choices.
Would you advise someone with a history of mental health issues to avoid birth control?
I wouldn’t advise against hormonal birth control for a patient with a history of mental health issues, especially if that form of birth control seemed to be best suited to her lifestyle, but I would be sure to monitor her and her reactions very closely. This is also part of the reason it’s so critical for patients to schedule and keep their follow-up appointments with physicians after they begin a new form of medication.
What are other side effects of birth control?
Patients should be aware of the most common side effects, which are varied and can range from increased cardiovascular risks such as blood clot development and increased odds of having a stroke, to positive effects such as a decreased risk for ovarian and uterine cancer.
Should I avoid taking birth control in case I get depressed?
Patients who are sexually active should never avoid taking birth control. There are many forms available for patients, which range from the combined oral contraceptive pill to non-hormonal options such as condoms, the copper IUD and the vaginal sponge and spermicide. It’s critical for women to take charge of their reproductive health.
Do I have to be having sex in order to take birth control?
You don’t have to be having sex in order to take birth control. Many women find that oral contraceptives can help with painful periods and heavy flow, and others take birth control to help regulate their moods. Talk to your OB/GYN about any menstrual symptoms you experience and how the combined oral contraception may help in managing these.
What are some reasons, other than being sexually active, young women should consider taking birth control?
Aside from varied potential health benefits such as lighter and less painful periods, hormonal birth control can actually alleviate acne and other premenstrual symptoms such as headaches. Many women also take birth control even when they aren’t sexually active in order to regulate their menstrual cycles.
What if I’m embarrassed to talk to my doctor about birth control?
Even though it may be difficult, I really encourage my patients to talk to me openly. There’s almost nothing I’ve ever heard that’s surprised me, and many patients are relieved to discover that they can speak freely about situations they might otherwise find embarrassing.
When should I consider going on birth control?
As mentioned, some patients begin taking hormonal birth control long before they become sexually active, in order to control heavy and painful periods. But everyone should be using some form of birth control when they decide to become sexually active.
Do I HAVE to take birth control if I’m sexually active?
To put it bluntly, 100% yes. Being sexually active comes with a host of other responsibilities including the prevention of STDs and unplanned pregnancies. Becoming sexually active can also be an emotional time for many young women, and it’s important for them to manage as many pieces of the situation as effectively as they can. Ultimately, each of us are responsible for our own reproductive health. If your partner refuses to use birth control, my advice would be to find a different partner.
My parents won’t let me go on birth control…is there another option?
Different states have different rules when it comes to a patient’s age and their parental knowledge and/or consent. Patients who would like a prescribed medication may need their parents’ approval if they are under a certain age. However, there are many forms of birth control that are available for purchase over the counter, such as condoms or the vaginal sponge and spermicide. The bottom line is if you’re sexually active, you must take the necessary steps to prevent STDs and unplanned pregnancies.
If you have more questions about birth control (or any question you’re too embarrassed to ask IRL), tweet or DM them to @YSBnow, and we promise to get them answered ASAP!