Birth control comes in many forms, including hormonal and non-hormonal options. Like all other medications, there are side effects associated with contraceptives, such as headaches or irregular bleeding. While many people have reported depressive symptoms while taking hormonal birth control, there is not enough evidence to prove that hormonal contraceptives cause depression.
This article discusses the relationship between hormonal birth control and depression, as well as the types of hormonal birth control and other side effects.
Different Types of Birth Control
There are many different types of birth control available, including prescription medications (like the pill), intrauterine devices (IUDs), over-the-counter products (e.g., condoms), natural methods, permanent procedures, and emergency contraception.
The most common contraceptive methods currently used in women between the ages of 15 and 49 are female sterilization (18.1%), oral contraceptives (14%), LARCs (long-acting reversible contraceptives, like IUDs and implants) (10.4%), and male condoms (8.4%).
Birth control can broadly be divided into two categories: hormonal birth control and non-hormonal birth control. Non-hormonal methods do not have any side effects that affect mood.
Hormonal Birth Control
Forms of hormonal birth control include:
- Combined hormonal contraceptives: Also known as the pill, combined hormonal contraceptives are the most commonly prescribed form of birth control. It uses both estrogen and progestin to suppress ovulation and avoid pregnancy.
- Progestin-only pill: This oral contraceptive is another type of birth control that comes in pill form. These “mini pills” contain progestin only to protect against pregnancy. Like the combined pill, it’s important to take this birth control at the same time every day to maximize its effectiveness.
- The patch: The transdermal patch contains hormones that are slowly absorbed into the body through the skin. It is applied every three weeks, and taken off on the fourth to allow for withdrawal bleeding. The patch is another form of combined hormonal contraception, using both progestin and estrogen as active ingredients.
- The ring: The vaginal ring is a flexible ring that is inserted into the vagina. It is used on a 28-day cycle, meaning that it stays in for 21 days, and comes out for seven. When it comes out, a period occurs. The ring is discarded after each month and replaced with a new one. While it is a form of combined hormonal contraception, it has been shown to produce milder side effects but is more associated with vaginal symptoms.
- The shot: This progestin-only hormonal contraceptive is a shot given by a healthcare provider every three months. It works by stopping the ovaries from releasing eggs.
- Implants: The implant is a small, rod-shaped device that is placed beneath the skin in the upper arm by a healthcare provider. It is a type of LARC, much like the more commonly known IUD. It is effective for up to three years. It must be removed by a healthcare provider.
- IUDs: There are four different hormonal IUD brands available in the U.S., which offer protection from pregnancy for anywhere from three to seven years. IUDs are T-shaped devices that must be placed and removed by a healthcare provider.
Non-hormonal Birth Control
Some forms of non-hormonal birth control include:
- Copper IUD: The copper IUD works without hormones. This is because copper itself is spermicidal, meaning that it kills sperm. Just like hormonal IUDs, the copper IUD must be placed and removed by a healthcare provider. As the most long-term form of birth control, copper IUDs can last for up to 10 years. They can also be used as emergency contraception.
- Barrier methods: These methods prevent sperm from entering the vagina. They include condoms, diaphragms, and cervical caps.
- Natural methods: Includes natural family planning (“the rhythm method”) and abstinence.
- Permanent birth control: For men, a surgical procedure called a vasectomy is performed. The female version of permanent birth control is an operation called tubal ligation, commonly known as “tube tying,” which blocks the fallopian tubes and prevents sperm from meeting an egg. Female sterilization is the most common contraceptive method currently used in women ages 15 to 49, at 18.1%.
Types of emergency contraception, including the Plan B One-Step pill (a hormonal option) and the Ella pill (a non-hormonal option), can be used after unprotected sex to prevent pregnancy. The copper IUD can also be used as emergency contraception. They are all effective if used within five days of having unprotected sex.
Hormonal Birth Control & Depression
Further research is needed to confirm whether hormonal birth control causes depression, but more recent studies indicate that birth control can lead to depressive symptoms.
A large-scale Danish study published in 2016 found that the research participants who took hormonal birth control were more likely to be diagnosed with depression or to be prescribed an antidepressant. This side effect was most commonly found in adolescents who were taking hormonal contraceptives.
Interestingly, much of the research reports that depressive symptoms subsided over time with continued use.
A separate 2016 review also studied the relationship between combined hormonal birth control and mood, but the results were inconclusive. The study authors suggested that more research and data are needed.
While there is still no definitive evidence to confirm that birth control causes depression, every person reacts differently to certain medications. If you have experienced negative side effects from your birth control, including depressive symptoms, talk to your healthcare provider about what other options might work for you.
Other Birth Control Side Effects
Depression is not the only side effect that people can experience while taking hormonal birth control.
Other side effects include:
- Spotting or irregular bleeding
- Breast tenderness
- Abdominal pain
Signs of Depression
Depression is a common mental health condition, affecting approximately one in 10 women in the United States.
Symptoms of depression can include:
- Feelings of sadness and hopelessness
- Feelings of guilt or worthlessness
- Feelings of irritability or restlessness
- Loss of interest in hobbies and activities that were once enjoyed
- Loss of energy
- Trouble concentrating, recalling details, and making decisions
- Sleep problems
- Changes in eating habits or loss of appetite
- Thoughts of suicide or suicide attempts
Help Is Available
If you or a loved one are struggling with depression, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.
For more mental health resources, see this National Helpline Database.
Many people report depressive symptoms as a side effect of taking hormonal birth control. Research suggests that the use of hormonal birth control is linked to depression, though it has not been proven that birth control causes depression.
A Word From Get Meds Info
If you are concerned about developing depressive symptoms by taking hormonal birth control, talk to your healthcare provider about recent research and all of your available birth control options. It has not been proven that hormonal birth control definitively causes depression, though you may experience depressive symptoms, as well as other side effects of birth control. Have an open dialogue with your healthcare provider about your side effects and options.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can people with depression and other mental illnesses take birth control?
Since there is no definitive evidence that proves hormonal birth control causes depression, it is safe for people with depression and other mental illness to take birth control. It’s always best to talk to your healthcare provider about any concerns you might have so that you can work together to choose the best option for you.
How can I pick the right birth control for me?
If you are concerned about the side effects of hormonal birth control, talk to your healthcare provider about progestin-only birth forms of birth control. Progestin-only options have fewer hormones and produce milder side effects. You can also consider a hormone-free option, such as the copper IUD.
Does birth control make you gain weight?
There are side effects associated with any form of birth control. The injection and implant are two forms of birth control that are associated with a risk for weight gain. Other types of hormonal contraception do not include weight gain as a primary side effect.Learn More:Birth Control Guide