Study finds link between hormonal birth control and depression

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In news that is sure to spark many an "I told you so," new research has found a link between using hormonal birth control and developing depression. But it's worth unpacking the new paper a bit.

For the study in JAMA Psychiatry, Danish researchers followed more than 1 million women ages 15 to 34 who had no prior depression diagnosis for 13 years. They noted what kind of hormonal birth control the women used, if any, and if they were diagnosed with depression at any point in the study period. They found that women who used combination oral contraceptives, a.k.a. the pill, were 23 percent more likely to take an antidepressant than women who didn't use hormonal birth control. Women who used progestin-only pills, patches, rings, and hormonal IUDs were also more likely to take antidepressants.

But it's important to note that women were not randomly assigned to a particular method of birth control, nor were they initially screened for depression. The researchers excluded anyone who had already been diagnosed, but this doesn't account for teens and women who may have been depressed but not yet diagnosed.

And, interestingly, after a few years, women using birth control actually had lower rates of depression than nonusers. As Kaiser Health News explains:

The newest findings also revealed the rate of depression dropped dramatically as the women continued using their contraceptives. The rate of developing depression actually fell below that of non-users after four to seven years of taking birth control. Women who begin birth control at an older age also experienced reduced rates of depression.
But Dr. Cora Breuner, a Seattle pediatrician and chair of the committee on adolescents for the American Academy of Pediatrics, cautioned against overreacting to the study. She noted that most women use hormonal contraception with no mental health effects and said she sees patients who seek contraceptives to help regulate their moods. Regular access to contraceptives enables women to regulate their menstrual cycles with precision, she said. And although the drugs presents certain risks, the benefits of birth control trump the risks of the alternative.

"An unintended and unwanted pregnancy far outweighs all the other side effects that could occur from a contraceptive," she said.

History/evolution of birth control
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History/evolution of birth control
Closeup still life of Zorane tablets, a series of low-estrogen birth control pills. Shown are three packs, one open, two closed. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Various big posters were hoisted in Saint Peter's Square by a group of persons favoring artificial birth control, as Pope Paul VI appeared in the central balcony of Saint Peter's Basilica to read his Easter message to the world and impart his blessing "Urbi et Orbi" (Over the City of Rome and the World) March 26, 1967. The huge poster in center reads: "Yes to the pill", while others read: "No to Abortion." (AP-PHOTO)
13th August 1968: Father Paul Weir expounds on his refusal to quit the Catholic church in the St Cecilia Presbytery in North Cheam. Father Paul, 31, was suspended from his duties because he disagrees with the Pope's ruling on birth control. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)
Birth control advocate Bill Baird, center, and Carol Morreale, left, as they led a demonstration outside the Immaculate Conception Church, Aug. 18, 1974 in Marlboro, Mass., protesting the denial of the baptismal sacrament to 3-month-old Nathaniel Morreale. Carol Morreale, the child's mother has publicly advocated that women be given the right to choose whether they will have an abortion. (AP Photo)
A woman holds a birth control pill dispenser indicating the day of the week in New York in August 1974. Though medical trials for the oral contraceptive started in the late 1950s, Enovid was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 1960. The sexual revolution was born. Known as "The Pill," it changed the balance of hormones estrogen and progesterone in women to prevent pregnancy. It was invented by Dr. Gregory Pincus and Dr. John Rock with the support of Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger. (AP Photo/Jerry Mosey)
FILE - This May 28, 1999, file photo shows a new birth control pill container designed to look like a woman's makeup compact for Ortho-McNeil Pharmaceutical Inc., of Raritan, N.J., displayed at the manufacturer's assembly line. More than half of privately insured women are getting free birth control due to President Barack Obamaâs health care law, part of a big shift thatâs likely to continue despite the Supreme Court allowing some employers with religious objections to opt out. (AP Photo/Mike Derer, File)
Graphic shows the Implanon implant, with contraceptive use stats among women ages 15-44. (AP Graphic)
Graphic shows preferred method of birth control for women by age; 1c x 3 1/2 inches; 46.5 mm x 88.9 mm
Chart shows failure rate of popular female contraceptives
Graphic shows the annual cost of the most effect birth control methods
Individually packaged hand-knitted uteri are placed on a countertop at the lobby of the State Capitol in Phoenix, Thursday, April 5, 2012. Critics of an Arizona proposal to limit birth control gave more than a dozen state lawmakers the personalized gift. The packages were delivered each in a clear plastic bag, labeled with a lawmakerâs name and containing a letter from a Tempe woman asking legislators to oppose the measure. (AP Photo/Terry Tang)
FILE - In this May 2, 2013 photo, pharmacist Simon Gorelikov holds a generic emergency contraceptive, also called the morning-after pill, at the Health First Pharmacy in Boston. The plaintiffs in a legal battle over emergency contraceptives say in a letter Wednesday June 12, 2013, the government has failed to comply with a New York judge's order to lift all restrictions on sales of the drug. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola, File)
A group of people organized by the NYC Light Brigade and the women's rights group UltraViolet, use letters in lights to spell out their opinion, in front of the Supreme Court, Monday, March 24, 2014, in Washington. Holding the "H" in "Hands" is Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn. The Supreme Court is weighing whether corporations have religious rights that exempt them from part of the new health care law that requires coverage of birth control for employees at no extra charge. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Margot Riphagen of New Orleans, La., wears a birth control pills costume as she protests in front of the Supreme Court in Washington, Tuesday, March 25, 2014, as the court heard oral arguments in the challenges of President Barack Obama's health care law requirement that businesses provide their female employees with health insurance that includes access to contraceptives. Supreme Court justices are weighing whether corporations have religious rights that exempt them from part of the new health care law that requires coverage of birth control for employees at no extra charge. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
(Photo via Getty)

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