Community Psychiatry’s Leela Magavi, M.D. was featured in Verywell Mind discussing the connection between birth control and mental health in women.
Your Birth Control Won’t Cause Depression, Study Finds
By: Claire Gillespie | November 17, 2020
Women take various things into account when deciding which birth control method is right for them, such as convenience, lifestyle, family planning, effectiveness, and cost. When it comes to hormonal contraceptives, another concern might be mental health. But new research from Northwestern Medicine, published in The American Journal of Psychiatry in November, might go some way to ease those worries.
The study, a comprehensive review of published research on contraceptives for women with psychiatric disorders, found that hormonal birth control, such as the pill, IUD, and vaginal ring, don’t cause depression and anxiety disorders.
Regular Mental Health Screening is Needed
However, it’s also clear that some women who are prescribed hormonal contraceptives will develop low mood.
“Although research studies have not unanimously confirmed any direct correlation between hormonal contraception and depression, and often have conflicting findings, in my clinical experience many adolescents and adults may experience depressive symptoms subsequent to starting birth control,” says Leela R. Magavi, MD, a Hopkins-trained adult, adolescent, and child psychiatrist and regional medical director for Community Psychiatry, California’s largest outpatient mental health organization.
Dr. Magavi says that in some cases she’s discussed changing or discontinuing hormonal contraception with patients’ OB/GYNs, and a few months later, many of those women experience an improvement in their overall mood state.
She references one particular study, published in JAMA Psychiatry in 2016, which tracked more than a million Danish women over the age of 14. It indicated an increased risk of depression with all forms of hormonal contraception, especially progestin-only forms, including the IUD.
However, Dr, Magavi also points out that the study suggested that the overall number of affected women was minimal. The researchers examined 18 years of data (1995–2013), so they measured the incidence rate in terms of person-years rather than individuals. For every 10,000 person-years, there were 30 new diagnoses of depression among women who used hormonal birth control. For non-users, there were an average of 28 new depression diagnoses per 10,000 person-years.
Every woman is different, and some might be more likely to develop depressive symptoms with hormonal birth control, such as those who have a personal or family history of psychiatric illness or who have experienced peripartum or postpartum depression.
And while interactions between psychotropic drugs and contraceptives are rare, doctors need to be aware that certain medications may interfere with some contraceptives, such as the antipsychotic drug clozapine and carbamazepine, which is used to treat bipolar disorder and seizures.
What This Means For You
It’s natural to worry about the potential side effects of hormonal birth control, particularly if you have a history of depression or anxiety disorder. But it’s important to know that you have access to many types of birth control, regardless of your history or likelihood of mental illness.
And when you read study results, it is important to remember that associations refer to possible, rather than definitive, side effects. “If a study suggests that some women may or may not experience a specific side effect, this cannot be generalized,” Dr. Magavi says. “Each woman has her own story and needs.”
Click here to read the entire article on Verywell Mind.