Women who use hormonal methods for birth control, such as “the pill,” may have a slightly higher risk of developing depression — and teenagers may be most vulnerable, a large study in JAMA Psychiatry suggests.
Researchers said the findings confirm the link between hormonal birth control and depression symptoms. However, the association does not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.
Manufacturers already list “mood changes,” including new or worsening depression, on their products’ list of potential side effects. But this new study of more than 1 million women strengthens the evidence of a connection, said Dr. Ojvind Lidegaard, of the University of Copenhagen, in Denmark.
Lidegaard said women with a history of depression symptoms might want to consider nonhormonal contraception — such as intrauterine devices (IUDs) that release copper to prevent sperm from fertilizing the egg.
Lidegaard’s team tracked more than 1 million women ages 15 to 34 for six years, on average.
Women on hormonal birth control were anywhere from 23 percent to two times more likely to start an antidepressant, compared with women not on hormonal contraceptives. And the risks were larger when the researchers focused on teens ages 15 to 19.
Teenagers using hormonal patches or vaginal rings, or IUDs containing progestin, were roughly three times more likely to be prescribed an antidepressant, versus other teens, the findings showed.
Still, the differences in absolute terms were small, Lidegaard’s team found. Just over 133,000 women started on an antidepressant during the study period.
Dr. Jill Rabin, a New York obstetrician-gynecologist who was not involved in the study, said it’s important to keep the issue in perspective. The small increase in depression risk has to be weighed against the “pro” of using effective birth control.