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New data prompts caution for young women choosing hormonal birth control

Third-generation contraceptive pills are displayed on January 2, 2013 in Lille, in northern France.
Third-generation contraceptive pills are displayed on January 2, 2013 in Lille, in northern France.

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A group of gynecology researchers are urging doctors (and pharmacists) to recognize the birth control pill's association with depression and antidepressants.

Their study, published in the Psychiatry edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association, crunched health records of one million young Danish women over a 10-year period. It found that those on the combined pill were 23% more likely to be prescribed an antidepressant by their doctor, most commonly in the first six months after starting on the pill.

Women on the progestin-only pills were 34% more likely to take antidepressants or get a first diagnosis of depression than those not on hormonal contraception. [Similar findings were associated with hormonal implants, patches, and intrauterine devices (IUDs).]

Because the study cannot prove contraceptives caused depression, many doctors argue against drawing conclusions, and they still counsel that the risks of an unwanted pregnancy outweigh many other adverse effects.

On the other hand, this study is not the first to find a correlation between depression and contraceptives, so it is possible sexually active young women should be wary of choosing hormonal birth control instead of condoms.


Holly Grigg-Spall, Author, "Sweetening the Pill: Or How We Got Hooked On Hormonal Birth Control" (Zero Books, 2013); Researcher focused on women’s health

Dr. Pratima Gupta, MD, Obstetrician and Gynecologist in the Bay Area; Gupta is on the board of  Essential Access Health - which administers California's Title (ten) X federal family planning program

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