With the affordability of contraceptives for many women under the Affordable Care Act, it might be tempting to rush in to the doctor to get a prescription.
But first it’s important to know how different contraceptives can affect not only your overall physical health, but also your mental health.
Contraceptives come in many forms, such as the birth control pill and IUD, so each type could potentially have varying side effects depending on the individual. Experts provide some benefits and downfalls of contraceptives in regard to mental health.
Dr. Wendie Trubow, a board certified gynecologist and quality director at Visions HealthCare, said in an email that birth control pills especially can have the ability to affect mental health.
“Any contraceptive that contains hormones has the potential to [impact] a woman's mental health due to the effect synthetic hormones can have on a woman's body,” Trubow said. “For any woman who is prone to depression, anxiety, sadness, or [mood] swings, the hormone-containing contraceptives can magnify those responses.”
“The mechanism is complicated, and involves the woman's innate state of health, her overall toxic burden, and the way her liver processes and her gut excretes the hormones she has taken,” she added.
“Additionally, oral contraceptives inhibit ovulation, which can blunt a woman's sexual drive. This can be distressing for many women and their partners, who don't understand why their sex drive is suddenly diminished.”
For women who are already experiencing mental health problems before taking contraceptives, it can be a gamble to starting taking pills with hormones.
“Any woman who has a history of depression, anxiety, panic disorders, mood swings or seasonal affective disorder should consider how well she manages her mental health prior to beginning a hormone-containing contraceptive, because for a subset of women, taking this type of contraceptive can worsen an underlying mental health issue,” Trubow said.
For women who experience negative side effects from birth control pills that contain hormones, there are other contraceptive alternatives, such as the intrauterine device (IUD), which can be found with or without hormones.
Trubow considers the IUD to be a highly effective method. Other options include diaphragms, condoms and tubal ligation. For women who do decide on contraceptives with hormones, there are ways to eliminate other potential negative side effects.
“It is very important to optimize the function of her liver and intestines by avoiding processed foods, detoxifying the diet and taking supplements that improve the liver's function,” Trubow said.
Dr. Ingrid Rodi, an associate clinical professor of OBGYN at the Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, said in an email that birth control pills have some beneficial effects for women.
“Women are very anxious not to have an unplanned/unwanted pregnancy,” Rodi said. “Contraceptives allow women control over their reproductive lives.”
There are also more intense symptoms that birth control can help with.
“Some women have PMS -- anxiety/depression/irritability just prior to the menstrual period,” Rodi said. “Hormonal contraceptives, particularly when taken continuously, can reduce the severity of the symptoms.”
Additionally, more control over their own bodies is always beneficial for women.
“Affordability of contraception will have a positive [effect] on mental health because more women will have more control over when they get pregnant,” Rodi said.
“Particularly women with mental health issues need to carefully plan pregnancies to optimize the outcome for them and the babies. Access to contraception will help that.”
Researchers at Harvard Medical School conducted a study to determine if oral contraceptives impact mood.
They found that for most women there are no mood changes after going on the pill. However, a smaller percentage of women (16.3 percent) out of the overall sample of 658 participants, experienced a worsening of their moods.
In addition, there are women with personal accounts of negative experiences with birth control. Lauren Vork shared on Yahoo! Voices that she suffered from depression and anxiety after she started taking hormonal birth control. After she stopped taking the pill, her life returned to normal.
Jill Foster shared her struggle with the birth control pill Microgynon on the Daily Mail online. She had “mood swings and uncharacteristic tearful outbursts.” Her relationship almost ended because of this along with her lack of sexual desire.
In her article, she included stories of other women who have emotionally suffered from taking the pill as well.
If you take contraceptives, has your mental health worsened, improved or stayed the same? Share your stories below.
Trubow, Wendie. Email interview. August 21, 2012. http://www.visionshealthcare.com/test-post
Rodi, Ingrid. Email interview. August 20, 2012.
Massachusetts General Hospital Center for Women’s Mental Health. Harvard Medical School. Do Oral Contraceptives Cause Mood Changes? August 23, 2012. Web.
Vork, Lauren. Birth Control and Depression: What You Might Not Know. Web. August 23, 2012.
Foster, Jill. How the Pill messes with women’s minds. Web. August 23, 2012.
Reviewed August 24, 2012
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith