People who take hormonal birth control often endure many side effects.
Mood swings are among the more common side effects linked to taking birth control. Some people feel an improved mood or a good balance while taking birth control, while others report feelings of increased distress.
Going through this kind of emotional rollercoaster is definitely not easy.
Hopefully, this article will help clarify the relationship between hormonal birth control and depression so you can understand how birth control may affect you.
What Is Hormonal Birth Control?
Birth control comes in many forms, including barrier methods (e.g. condoms), prescription oral medication (i.e., the birth control pill), long-acting injectables (e.g. depo provera), longer-acting implants (like intrauterine devices (IUDs), natural methods, permanent procedures (e.g. bilateral tubal ligation), and emergency contraception.
Not all forms of birth control are hormonal.
Birth control can be divided into two categories: non-hormonal and hormonal. Hormonal birth control methods contain estrogen and/or progestin (synthetic progesterone).
Although these hormones are made by the ovaries, birth control uses synthetic versions of these hormones.
Forms of hormonal birth control can include:
- Combination hormonal contraceptives (the pill)
- The vaginal ring (the ring)
- The patch
- The progestin-only pill
- The Depo-ProveraⓇ shot (depo shot or the shot)
Mental Health and Birth Control
Depression is an extremely common mental health condition that affects 6.7% of adults in the United States, and many people have reported that they experienced depressive symptoms after taking hormonal birth control.
This could be, in part, due to the large percentage of assigned females at birth (AFAB) who experience depression in the United States.
Every year, 12 million AFAB in the U.S. are diagnosed with clinical depression.
Ultimately, further research is needed to confirm whether or not hormonal birth control causes depression.
It’s unsure whether there is a strong enough link between depression and the initiation of hormonal birth control.
One study of 1 million Danish women, supports the assertion that initiation of birth control and depression are strongly linked.
However, there are other studies and articles that remind us that correlation is not causation, and that birth control is safe to take, even if the person has depression.
It is important to remember that every person responds differently to certain medications.
If you begin to experience negative side effects, such as depressive symptoms, after starting on birth control, talk to your healthcare provider about what options might be available for you.
Is Depression a Side Effect of Birth Control?
It has not been clinically proven that birth control causes depression.
In 2016, a large-scale Danish study found that the participants who took hormonal birth control were increasingly likely to be diagnosed with depression or mood swings.
Many participants were also prescribed antidepressants. These side effects were most commonly found in adolescents who had been taking hormonal contraceptives.
Another review conducted in 2016 also studied the relationship between hormonal birth control and mood.
However, the results were inconclusive. The authors of this study suggested that more data and research are required.
On the other hand, another study showed that hormonal birth control pills could even have a mood-improving effect.
This study utilized the data of 6,654 non-pregnant sexually active people between the ages 25 and 34 who were taking hormonal birth control pills.
These people showed fewer depressive symptoms and were far less likely to report a suicide attempt than those who were using less effective contraception or no contraception.
Although the evidence is contradictory and inconclusive, many drug manufacturers list depression as a side effect on hormonal birth control packaging.
For example, the package insert for the Ortho-CyclenⓇ and Ortho Tri-CyclenⓇ birth control pills lists mental depression as a side effect.
Other side effects of birth control
The side effects of taking hormonal birth control can include:
- Breast tenderness or soreness
- Missed periods or breakthrough bleeding
- Weight gain
- Decreased sex drive
- Vaginal discharge
More rare but serious side effects can include:
- High blood pressure
- Blood clots
- Liver tumors
- Breast cancer risk
- Cervical cancer risk
If you experience any of these side effects or if you are more susceptible to certain diseases, talk to your healthcare provider about the right options for you.
Signs of Depression
If you are using birth control, it’s important to know the signs of depression in case your mood is affected
The term “depression” is used in different ways which can be confusing.
Often it’s mentioned as a state of feeling sad, discouraged, hopeless, or apathetic.
The way we describe it in medicine is in relation to the different disorders and syndromes (like dysthymia, minor depression, and major depression).
Although there is a wide range of symptoms that vary in severity, understanding the signs and symptoms can help you determine whether you are experiencing a depressive disorder or simply going through a sad period—which happens to all of us from time to time.
Please read through these symptoms to see if they align with how you have been feeling and if it is time for you to contact a mental health professional.
Symptoms of depression may include:
- Feelings of worthlessness
- Hopeless outlook
- Uncontrollable emotions
- Increased anxiety
- Feelings of sadness
- Withdrawing from daily life
- Loss of interest in things that were once enjoyable
- Loss of energy
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Physical pain, such as severe headaches, cramps, or digestive problems
- Difficulty concentrating, making decisions, or recalling details
- Changes in appetite – from eating too much or having no appetite
- Thoughts of suicide or attempts at suicide
Though some changes in mood may be manageable, depression can affect your ability to function in daily activities, from work to personal life.
There are different treatment options for depression, and it is always okay to seek help.
Treating depression may involve participation in some kind of therapy, taking medications, or easing yourself into self-help-related activities that might improve your mood.
It may take one of these options or all of them, and each patient is different and their experience is unique.
If you are experiencing any of the aforementioned symptoms, it is important to talk to your primary care doctor or a mental health professional as soon as you can.
K Health offers a wide range of treatments for depression that can be accessed according to your schedule.
If you or a loved one are struggling with depression, you can also 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.
Choosing the Right Birth Control
Hormonal birth control works by preventing ovulation (when the ovaries release an egg each month).
These methods do not protect you or your partner from STDs, but you can use condoms to protect yourself from STDs while using a hormonal birth control method.
The two main types of oral contraceptives are combination pills and progestin-only pills.
This categorization is based on whether the tablets have a single hormone called progestin or a combination of the hormones estrogen and progestin.
Combination birth control pills work by:
- Thickening the cervical mucus
- Thinning the uterine lining
- Preventing the ovaries from releasing an egg
Progestin-only pills work by:
- Thickening the cervical mucus
- Thinning the uterine lining
Both pills contain more commonplace side effects such as:
- No periods
- Spotting or bleeding between periods
- Decreased libido
- Breast tenderness
When to See a Doctor
If you have a history of certain health conditions, you should contact your medical professional to help you make an informed decision about which oral contraceptive might be right for you.
You should also contact a mental health professional if you are experiencing severe or worsening symptoms of depression or suicidal thoughts.
Did you know you can get affordable primary care with the K Health app?
Download K Health to check your symptoms, explore conditions and treatments, and, if needed, text with a doctor in minutes. K Health’s AI-powered app is HIPAA compliant and based on 20 years of clinical data.
Frequently Asked Questions
K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.
K Health has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.
Can hormonal birth control trigger depression? (2019)
Oral Contraceptive Use and Depression Among Adolescents. (2018)
The emotional cost of contraception. (2016)
Ohio State Study Examines Link Between Hormonal Contraception and Depression. (n.d.)
Combined hormonal contraception and its effects on mood: a critical review. (2016)