Women on hormonal contraceptives have a greater risk of suffering from depression, according to a new study published in JAMA Psychiatry.
Contraceptives of different types are produced: from the combined oral pill to the hormonal intrauterine devices (IUDs). They are often associated with risks of harm to the woman. A new research has now linked them with depression: scientists from Denmark’s University of Copenhagen have found that women taking to such methods of contraception have a greater chance at being prescribed antidepressants than other women. Researchers have said that this risk is more pronounced in teenagers: an 80% increase in the likelihood has been found in the age group 15-19, and IUDs involve a three-fold rise in this risk.
According to the new study, hormone progesterone used in such contraceptives generate an observable change in someone’s mood. Teenagers, specially, would be more likely to use antidepressants eventually after taking hormonal contraception. The latter has also been linked with a first diagnosis of depression, the authors write who have, thus, concluded that hormonal contraceptive use might possibly be leading to depression.
These findings appear to be reliable because of the large sampling performed by the researchers (data from 1,061,997 women was collected), and also because they are based on health records, implying that errors pertaining to self-reporting would not arise.
But, then, you might ask as to how does hormonal contraception cause depression? Sadly, the study does not entail an answer to this question. As a consequence, while the findings seem to be compelling, they do not prove that the risk of depression is actually the result of the contraception itself. Rather, the research is open to interpretation: another explanation might be that factors behind the use of contraceptives among teenagers are the real cause of depression.
To clarify the link, more research will need to be done.
Now, what should we, laymen, think of this? Imperial College London’s reproductive endocrinologist Channa Jayasena (not involved in the study) comments on the study in a statement to The Guardian:-
“This study raises important questions about the pill. … The study does not prove that the pill plays any role in the development of depression. However, we know hormones play a hugely important role in regulating human behaviour.”
“Given the enormous size of this study, further work is needed to see if these results can be repeated in other populations, and to determine possible biological mechanisms which might underlie any possible link between the pill and depression.”