Women who took the Pill as teenagers are ‘up to THREE TIMES more likely to develop depression’

Women who took the Pill as teenagers are ‘up to THREE TIMES more likely to develop depression’

  • Scientists analysed 1,200 women who did and did not take the contraceptive
  • Found those who took it as teenagers were 1.7-to-three times more at risk
  • Pill contains hormones that may affect areas of the brain linked to emotions 

Women who took the Pill as teenagers may be more at risk of depression, research suggests.

Scientists from the University of British Columbia analysed more than 1,200 women who did and did not take oral contraceptives during their adolescence.

They found the women who took birth control pills were up to three times more likely to develop depression compared to those who never took any. 

The most commonly prescribed Pill contains both oestrogen, to prevent ovulation, and progesterone, to reduce the risk of a fertilised egg implanting into the uterus wall.

Studies have suggested changing levels of these sex hormones, particularly progesterone, impacts areas of the brain that control cognitive functioning and the processing of emotions.

Taking the Pill as a teenager, when the brain is still developing, may ‘influence later behaviour in an irreversible way’, the researchers said.

Women who took the Pill as teenagers may be more at risk of depression (stock)

‘Our findings suggest that the use of oral contraceptives during adolescence may have an enduring effect on a woman’s risk for depression, even years after she stops using them,’ lead author Dr Christine Anderl said. 

‘Adolescence is an important period for brain development. Previous animal studies have found manipulating sex hormones, especially during important phases of brain development, can influence later behaviour in a way that is irreversible.’ 

In the UK, 19.7 per cent of people over 16 showed symptoms of depression or anxiety in 2014, Mental Health Foundation statistics show. 

And in the US, more than 16.1million adults suffer from depression every year, according to the Anxiety and Depression Society of America. 


More than three million women in the UK take the contraceptive pill but fears of it causing depression and even leading to suicidal thoughts are common.

Two thirds of women taking the Pill (66 per cent) admit they do not actually know what the hormones it contains are doing to their body.

And a quarter of users polled in a episode of the BBC’s Horizon – fronted by TV doctor Zoe Williams – said taking the contraceptive has damaged their mental health.  

Some 25 per cent of the women in Horizon’s survey of 1,000 18 to 45-year-olds who were on the Pill said taking the drug had negatively affected their mental health.

Vicky Spratt, a 30-year-old journalist for Grazia magazine, used the contraceptive when she was younger and said it made her brain feel ‘mouldy’. 

Ms Spratt said her doctor did not make the link between her deteriorating mental health and the Pill, but added she returned to normal ‘within weeks’ of coming off it. 

Dr Williams then spoke to a doctor in Denmark who investigated the medical records of 1.8million women taking the Pill over 20 years.

Professor Ojvind Lidegaard, from the University of Copenhagen, found the Pill increased the likelihood of a woman using antidepressants by 70 per cent.

Dr Williams explained there is no scientific evidence to prove the Pill directly causes depression or suicide attempts, but there is a correlation. 

It is not possible to carry out a scientific study using placebo pills, she said, because women would then get pregnant by accident. 

But, she added, women do not have to put up with a Pill that harms their mental health and they should speak to their doctor about any concerns. 

Women are twice as likely to develop the mental-health condition as men, the researchers wrote. This has been linked to hormonal fluctuations during pregnancy, after giving birth and during the menopause.

In terms of contraception, two-thirds of women aged 20 to 24 take the Pill, which declines to just 11 per cent among those in their late forties, according to the sexual health charity FPA.

In the US, four out of five ‘sexually experienced’ women have used the Pill at some point, Guttmacher Institute statistics show. 

Studies have shown a correlation between the Pill and depression, however, none – including the latest one – have proven the former causes the latter. 

In the first study of its kind, the researchers analysed 1,236 women in the US, some of whom took the Pill as teenagers.

Results – published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry – revealed taking the contraceptive during adolescence increased the participants’ risk of depression by 1.7-to-three times.

This remained true after the researchers adjusted for factors like when the women lost their virginity, when they had their first period and if they were taking oral contraception at the time of the study.     

‘Millions of women worldwide use oral contraceptives, and they are particularly popular among teenagers,’ study author Dr Frances Chen said. 

‘We strongly believe providing women of all ages with access to effective methods of birth control is and should continue to be a major global health priority.

‘[However] we hope our findings will promote more research on this topic, as well as more informed dialogue and decision-making about the prescription of hormonal birth control to adolescents.’

The researchers are investigating how hormonal changes during a girl’s teenager years affect her emotions, social interactions and mental health. 

They are recruiting girls aged 13-to-15 to participate in the study, which will involve a series of laboratory tasks, as well as the collection of saliva samples to measure the girls’ hormone levels over three years.

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