Does The Birth Control Pill Cause Depression?


In September 2016, some researchers in Denmark
published a huge study, with data from more than a million people over almost 20 years. What they found was a connection between women
using hormonal birth control and taking antidepressants. Needless to say, it’s been making waves
on the Internet, as reporters blast out headlines like “The Pill Causes Depression.” But like so many things in science, and especially
research on humans, it’s not really that simple. The pill has its pros and cons, and it’s
used for way more than just preventing pregnancy. Whether you’re using pills, patches, injections,
or implants, hormonal birth controls all basically work the same way. They dump some synthetic hormones into your
bloodstream – mostly progestins, and sometimes estrogen. Normally, these hormones are made by the ovaries
at certain times in certain amounts, and help with lots of biological stuff. Estrogen regulates the menstrual cycle, for
example, and progestins help bulk up the uterus to get it ready for a potential fetus. Adding a bunch of synthetic hormones stabilizes
those normally-changing levels, which stops the ovaries from releasing eggs, so there
aren’t any around to be fertilized in the first place. Plus, they make the cervical mucus thicker
and goopier, which might make it more difficult for sperm to get through the cervix and into
the uterus at all. Together, these effects are really potent
and make it a lot harder to get pregnant. Even when it’s used imperfectly, some estimates
say only about 9 women in 100 will get pregnant while just on the pill. Compared to the 18 women in 100 that might
get pregnant from imperfectly using male condoms, that’s pretty good. But birth control isn’t just used to control
births! Synthetic hormones can help patients with
other health conditions, too. [P-C-O-S]
Take polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS, which is a nasty combination of enlarged ovaries,
irregular periods, and even infertility – all caused by higher levels of androgen hormones. When people with PCOS aren’t trying to get
pregnant, the pill works really well to balance out hormones and treat the condition. [endo-mee-tree-oh-sys]
Hormonal birth control can also help with painful cramps, which are caused by uterus
muscles contracting, and endometriosis, or too much uterine tissue growth. And even when people are just taking the pill
for contraception, there might be some benefits, like a decreased risk of ovarian and endometrial
cancer. Scientists think the extra synthetic progestins
might tell the body to kill off older ovarian cells, so they don’t stick around and have
the chance to mutate and become dangerous. So the pill can do a lot of good, but there
are some risks, as well. Research has found a very small possible increase
in the risk of other cancers, like breast and liver cancer, in patients that were using
hormonal birth control with extra estrogen. A similar risk has been seen in people who
get their periods early, or never have kids. This link is still pretty uncertain, but it
seems to be a danger from exposure to lots of estrogen, natural or artificial. Some researchers think this might have to
do with cells breaking down the estrogen and making oxygen radicals, which are really chemically
reactive, can damage DNA, and cause cancerous mutations. On the other hand, pills with synthetic progestins
can make it more likely for blood clots to form in veins, a condition called deep vein
thrombosis. Researchers think the synthetic hormones in
the pill can trigger an increase of blood clotting factors, basically making blood “stickier”
and more likely to clump up. If these clots break loose, they can travel
to the lungs and block an artery, and keep oxygen from getting into the bloodstream,
which can be deadly. And finally, there might be mental health
risks, including depression. A recent, big study found a link between the
use of antidepressants and the use of hormonal birth control methods, like the pill, patch,
and IUDs. But, even though there were over a million
people surveyed, they were all Danish women, which is a pretty limited population. Plus, contraceptives have changed a lot in
the past 20 years while they were collecting data, so it’s hard to figure out what specifically
about the hormonal birth control might be to blame. So it is an important study to help us understand
some of the possible risks of the pill and other hormonal methods. But it’s also just one piece of evidence. Ultimately, we can only say that there’s
a correlation in their data, but we can’t know anything for sure about causation yet. As for other research: In 2012, a meta analysis
of studies from 1976 to 2010 on hormonal birth control and depression didn’t find a clear
link between the two. But there also weren’t that many studies
out there – the scientists were only able to look at around 25 research papers and reviews. So, does birth control cause depression? Maybe… but maybe not. But lots of scientists agree that more research
needs to be done! Hormonal birth control has completely changed
the game in health and letting people choose if and when they want to become pregnant. And like any medical treatment, it comes with
some risks. It’s up to researchers and doctors to figure
out how high those risks are – and up to individual people to decide whether those
risks are worth the benefits to them. Thanks for watching this episode of SciShow,
which was brought to you by our patrons on Patreon. If you want to help support this show, just
go to patreon.com/scishow. And don’t forget to go to youtube.com/scishow
and subscribe!

100 thoughts on “Does The Birth Control Pill Cause Depression?

  1. Someone was trying to convince me that birth control changes your personality. As the kids say "I need the receipts."

  2. In regards to PCOS: If you have it, talk to your endocrinologist if you have one, or get one if you don't. I was on birth control and antidepressants for years, to no avail. Even with these medications, I was bleeding my entire cycle and had PMDD that caused such intense suicidal episodes that I had to go to the hospital several times. My endocrinologist says PCOS is actually caused by an insulin resistance (diabetes runs in my family) instead of being completely incidental. I was prescribed metformin, and my bleeding and emotions were both regulated. If you have PCOS, pleeeease talk to your endocrinologist about metformin, because it changed my life and I don't want others going through the hell I endured because they had countless gynecologists tell them it was the pill or nothing.

  3. I dunno, but it IS listed as a class 1 carcinogen, which makes it as proficient as cigarettes for causing cancer. There are natural alternatives, you know that, right? NFP all the way

  4. I have PCOS. The pill made me worse? Especially mindwise… I got suicidal and my dyphoria and the "symptom" of PCOS with is "gender confusion" got SO MUCH WORSE. Fuck the pill. Honestly. (for me tho, I am not ever tellng others what to do)

  5. I totally agree more research should be done before extracting info from small studies, but I personally know that at least some birth control pills cause depression. I was on one type for a year and it was like all my emotions were muted and foggy. I had absolutely no sex drive as well. It was pretty damaging to my marriage. After two days of going off it my emotions returned back to normal. It was like night and day. Maybe I am just more sensitive to my hormonal drive (I could recognize being pregnant almost immediately when I became so later that year), but there is definitely something going on. I have never had any symptoms of depression when I was not on the pill. The minipill did not give me such extreme reactions.

  6. The idea that "the pill" makes cervical mucus thick and sticky, interfering with sperm getting into the uterus, is almost universally repeated, but it doesn't make any sense. Intercourse isn't possible without lubrication, but there aren't any glands in the vagina (except for occasional "glans"). Vaginal lubrication comes from the glands of the cervix and the uterus, provided that the female is sexually aroused. The very fact that the vagina is wet and well-lubricated means that, at least during sexual stimulation, the cervical mucus is liquid and sperm should have no problem finding their way inside — typically helped a lot by the woman's orgasm, which causes rhythmic contractions of her internal genitalia in the direction of bringing sperm to her ovaries.

  7. All I know is that I was consumed with thoughts of my own death and extreme fatigue (like, falling asleep the moment I'd sit down) for nearly two years until my husband and I decided to try for a baby. A week after going off the pill these symptoms dissipated.
    I think if this study were to be repeated it must be taken into account that many do not take antidepressants or even seek help for this sort of thing. It's very hard to gage the amount of people suffering from depression due to stigma and whatnot.
    I was never diagnosed but looking back at that time in my life with a clear head it seems that I was depressed and (for me) that depression was caused by the hormonal birth control I was on.
    HOWEVER I also still feel like birth control is a phenomenal and empowering product for women, and encourage people to try it. It may work for them! Hormones are weird, and humans are individuals.

  8. I don't know if it Causes actual clinical Depression but it has definitely not made me happier. I believe it has made me feel more hormonally down than I would otherwise have been but I could be wrong, as other factors could be in play. More definitive research would be appreciated.

  9. My own depression is much worse during my period, and through the years my doctors have suggested I take oral contraceptives to get me through those few days a month. So, maybe some women are taking birth control to help their depression? Regardless, as you say, it is correlation, not causation!

  10. For most of my life I lived with PMDD. Most severe form of PMS. PMDD symptoms for 10 days of every month and my period every 3 weeks. Very debilitating. Finally found a Dr who put me on the pill 3 months at a time, so I only got my period 4 times a year. Got my life back. Went through a few combinations of pill hormones til I found the right one. Wish I had of had this kind of help further back in my life. Also, just so you know, some women are affected adversely by the wrong hormone combination. They need to be watchful, talk to there Dr if they are having difficulties and find the right one.

  11. Very informative video! Just wondering– was there a conscious decision behind having Michael be the host for this topic? I think it's really important for men to show interest in the health of women, so I'm glad Michael was hosting! But I also think it's very important for women to be represented when talking about women's health issues (ex: this is sorely lacking in congress). Michael and the script writers did a fantastic job with this video, and I have no problems with it– I'm just wondering if there was a deliberate decision on having Michael be the host?

  12. Scishow becoming click bait?
    from the article "We found that depression is not a common side effect of hormone-based contraceptives."
    Futhermore, simple questing to ask the people being researched "what do you think is causing your depression?" Many factors can contribute to depression.

    I personally find that scishow is going down the Buzzfeed road #profits
    Hank do something please

  13. I'm extremely sensitive to medication, and I've tried around…. 20 different birth controls to correlate with my mood bc they're all different.

    Seriously, though. You can't just take 1-2 birth control types and be like "FUCK THIS HSIT"

    It took a while, but I take TEVA with minimal side effects. At first, I was incredibly alarmed because I was having mild hair loss from it, but after a month and a half, it started to go away. 😀

    I have PCOS so I require to take some birth control to prevent cancer and whatever.

  14. I've recently just come OFF birth control pills, because they triggered a major depressive swing in my bipolar, complete with psychotic symptoms, believing I wasn't real, and as far as having suicidal thoughts. All of this came on very suddenly, and we thought for no reason. Doctors tend to forget that some medications can absolutely clash with birth control. I happened to run out of my pills and was too depressed to refill my perscription of them for a few days. The condition they were treating stopped, so I didn't bother picking them up even after I started feeling better. Within 6 days, ALL of my symptoms were gone, and I felt like a normal, functioning adult once again!

  15. Nah. I'm depressed and I don't even take the pill. #NotHowScienceWorks
    Plus I'm a man, definitely a joke, please calm your testovaries. (Tho that man-pill is interesting, it's still being developed, don't take me seriously godammit!)

  16. If you are getting a wisdom tooth out, you are more likely to get dry socket if you are taking the pill. If you schedule it to be during your week off the pill you have a better chance of avoiding the risk of that painful situation. Something I wasn't advised when I booked my upcoming one! Scary stuff

  17. I love how you remind people that "the pill" is not the only hormonal treatment, and there's even a ring there! They're neve remembered!

  18. Apparently it doesn' cause weight gain but EVERY woman I know that has taken HBC has gained weight. A few pounds for some, and huge amounts for others. Hormonal contraceptives are probably one of the most important inventions for women but they need improvement. 🙂

  19. I'm on birth control and antidepressants because my period causes depression. That might just be were the correlation comes from, I have something called premenstrual dysphoric disorder which is basically really intense period symptoms like depression

  20. Hormonal birth control can kill a human embryo if it happens to be conceived despite the hormones.

  21. Some women experience a decrease in libido due to their hormonal birth control. I wonder if some of them feel like they're letting their partner down and that results in feelings of depression.

  22. It absolutely does. I was on a progestogen birth control for about 10 months. 9 months of which I was so depressed that every morning I woke up fighting the very strongurge to go to the bathroom and slit my wrists. I also felt that urge randomly throughout the day on bad days.

    A week after I stopped my birth control, my depression was not gone, but in a manageable position. Two months later it's almost a distant memory.

    For anyone that's wondering I'm not some sulky teenager. I'm a happily married mother in my mid 20's. I'm financial stable and have everything I have ever dreamed about. I have absolutely no reason to be depressed.

  23. Is there any merit in considering that there are some social stigmas for both of these pills, and the correlation being that women willing to deal with that for one are more likely to accept it for the other?
    Or is this over thinking things? It came to mind as I was watching, but I'm not really sure about the idea.

  24. I'm never having kids, why can't there just be like a button so I can read to get rid of my period lickety split lol

  25. That's completely stupid. On every package it says it can cause such things as depression, thrombosis etc. Me myself, I got a horrible depression from the pill, my hair fell out, I weren't able to eat normally and lost around 5 kg in 1 month. And I'm not the only one I know with problems like this. It's painfully obvious.

  26. At least the study had a large sample size, I've seen news papers having a fit over the findings of studies of a dozen people.

  27. I experienced depression while on one type of oral contraception. I talked it over with my care provider, took a break from artificial hormones, and it was like a blanket lifting. The depression just went away. I'm on a different pill now, with no problems. I think it really has to do with a woman's individual hormone levels and what is in the contraception she's using. Every body is different.

  28. As a transgender girl on hormone replacement therapy, I can confirm that synthetic estrogen and progestins do cause serious health problems. trans women take much higher doses of estrogen and progesterone to supplement what our body cannot produce, and so because our bodies are consuming much more foreign hormones than cis women, we have to be extra smart about what kinds of estrogens should be taken. Estrogens like conjugated estrogens and synthetic estrogen have been known to cause thrombosis and cancers at much higher rates as something like 17 b estradiol, or estradiol valerate, Cypionate, or even benzoate. with progestins, it is always recommended to stay away from anything other than natural micronized Progesterone. medroxyprogesterone acetate is unsuitable for the body in similar reasons.

  29. Well, I think the pill works for some but not others and using it for too long can cause havoc.
    Messing with your hormones can cause cancer or depression, I would say it is better to not mess with your hormones if you are a healthy individual.

    I have no respect for those who continue taking birth control despite bitching about the side effects. "My skin got fucked up. I put on weight. I have terrible mood swings."
    Surely you could stop taking the pill and use other methods like tracking your cycle or using a condom. If the side effects are that bad, I am sure you can cope with foregoing your man finishing inside you.
    I say this only in relation to those on the pill for stopping pregnancy, not those trying to alleviate period symptoms or reduce their flow.

  30. It would have been cool of you had a woman talk about women's health. You are usually really great about being respectful, so I thought you might want to know that alot of women are tired of listening to men discuss our health. No biggie, just a suggestion.

  31. Love this video, birth control is such a mixed blessing and it totally depends on the person what works best. I already had depression but when I started my first bc I became excruciatingly suicidal within weeks, had no period the entire time (it wasn't the type that was supposed to do that), and gave me severe acne. I switched to a different bc and the symptoms were much less severe but unfortunately because I already have a history of mental illness it is difficult to discern exactly how it affects me. Fortunately, the pill makes my periods much less painful and reduces my sex drive a bit (this is actually a plus for me, my sex drive was previously high enough to be rather uncomfortable and distracting). Overall I am extremely grateful that bc is not only a thing, but that I live in a place where I have access to it and have insurance that covers it. Hopefully with further research we will be able to better understand the risks and benefits of bc and possibly develop contraceptives that are just as effective but with fewer side effects.

  32. I used to take birth control pills but I stopped when I noticed that I had been feeling.. well.. less. I wasn't depressed exactly, I just stopped feeling strong emotions. It was like the pills mellowed everything I felt. I never got exited about anything, and feeling numb like that for so long did make me kinda depressed. Now that I've stopped talking them it's a huge difference and a big improvement =D

  33. A study of 1.000.000 women in Denmark…

    So all of the Danish women were part of the study? Even the ones that weren't even born yet?

  34. I've got pcos and might need some of this stuff to fix it…But fucking yikes, I already have bad depression and don't want it to get worse. Maybe it's better not to get any. 🙁

  35. I'm sure it does cause depression. I used to take the pill for acne back in high school but had to stop because I was heave-sobbing over my algebra homework! Now that I'm an adult in a relationship, makes me kinda bummed I can't take them without my nascent depression (runs in the family) being triggered. So the correlation is probably more with women with the potential already there. Or who already have it. So, to me, not worth it!

  36. more research is needed because this concerns females not men. they tried giving men the pill and they stopped because guess what it gave them depression amoung other things which yes we get too. its not ok for men but its ok for females. just need drs to actually listen… ok midnight rant over

  37. I have PCOS and genetically inherited depression and anxiety disorders, the pill helps me SO SO SO much with all my ailments.

  38. The hormone regulation that comes with my birth control has drastically decreased the frequency of my migraines. After struggling with terrible migraines for years, it has made an enormous difference to my quality of life.

  39. birth control may not necessarily cause depression but birth control has caused ovarian cysts and that's why I don't take it because I have had four cyst and ever since I stopped taking birth control I have not gotten another one

  40. It would be much clearer if you gave some sense of proportion for the harms. Say, the pill-caused deep vein thrombosis risk is somewhere in the order of 1 in 10000 users – over some considerable amount of time – if I remember correctly (sorry for my laziness not to check; don't place any confidence on this). Relatively, something like doubling the risk over that time.

  41. as a woman that takes birth control to treat a potentially deadly reproductive illness, and has depression, this video was very interesting.. but even if the birth control were the sole cause of my depression, I wouldn't stop taking it. I'd be dead.

  42. Hormonal birth control pills have been said that it may or may not cause depression. Personally, I think if you haven't had depression before you started taking the pill or know what it's like, you wouldn't get depression just from talking birth control. I think the pill plays mind games and if you're feeling out of it one day, you assume you have depression, even when thats not the case. You allow yourself to believe what you hear and start feeling convinced the minute you start feeling sad or having behavioral issues.Being on your period gives you all different types of hormonal mood swings which the pill cannot be blamed for. The video states that it may give you depression, but if it does, it only affects a small portion of the population. Research states that if depression is increased from the pill, you should not stop taking it. Approximately 2.2 out of 100 women who used hormonal birth control developed depression, compared to 1.7 out of 100 who did not. This indicates that only some people will be susceptible to this side effect. However, I still don't think the pill can lead to depression.

  43. I know and understand all the reasons you choose to use "people" instead of "women" in the script, but I got thoroughly annoyed by it by the end of this (short!) video. Too much of a good thing, eh.

  44. I think this makes sense that women who take birth control have a higher chance of getting depression. With any fluctuation of hormones its obvious that some women would have an adverse reaction and become depressed. Since people really are not sure exactly what causes depression it is not likely that they can say for sure that birth control does cause depression. It just might be that some women are more prone to getting depression via a change in hormones. For women who do get depressed because of hormones I personally do not think that the risks outweigh the benefits because depression can obviously lead to suicide if it is not treated properly.

  45. There is a cheaper more effective version of birth control: not having sex until you are ready for kids. It has never been easier with the internet and an abundance of toys. As for the medical benefits, you will still have to take the pill, but should be prescribed for the issue, not because you have no self control.

  46. I mean, a lot of people I know literally got depression while on BC and then it went away/improved significantly when they stopped. (Yes, I am actually a statistician and I know that my friends aren't a reasonable sample to draw conclusions, yadda yadda ya) – but if you go to the doctor and say, "I've started feeling depressed since X months ago" and they go, "oh look, that's also when you started taking the pill!", they're not going to say "well there's not enough statistical evidence that it can cause depression yet!", they'll tell you to stop taking it.

    For once, I actually wish they'd waste LESS time trying to do large-scale statistical studies on this, and start telling more people that depression is a possible side effect, and to consider stopping taking the pill/changing to a different type if they experience it. My sister got really unwell because of this, and I think I've experienced the same.

  47. From personal experience, I got the birth control shot and experienced depression. I gained 25 pounds from it and fell into a depressed state when my jeans didn't fit. With the shot in my system I found a reason to cry about anything happy or sad. Changing your body's hormones DOES have an effect on how your brain processes things. I agree with more research being needed, but I think "maybe" is a cop-out answer to say it "may" causes depression. While it may not make everyone depressed, it definitely causes an increase in your risk for developing it. In some cases, it really helps people out with the issues that they have. I believe that more research needs to be done so there aren't so many side effects of birth control. With something being this serious and many women around the world using birth control you would think that there would be something better out there for women to take. Male birth control shouldn't even be researched until women's birth control is well researched and there are no life changing side effects.

  48. I think it makes sense that women who take birth control have a higher risk for depression. Side effects accompanying birth control include mood changes, headaches, and weight gain. Weight gain can be a major factor that can cause depression. A change in the body's hormones will have an effect on the brain's processing. Although it is not proven that birth control causes depression, it is easy to assume a correlation between the two. The effects of birth control vary from person to person. The menstrual cycle causes hormonal changes that the pill cannot be blamed for, even though it is used to suppress them. It is concerning that this is a topic that affects half the population, yet there isn't more research being done to find an answer or create a birth control pill with less side effects.

  49. I'm on the pill for multiple ovarian cysts. I would get several cysts each month and have to go the ER sometimes. I think it depends on the woman, maybe if someone was already predisposed to depression and took Hormonal BC then they might be at a higher risk for developing it. I've never really had any problems with depression personally.

  50. as someone who is on both birth control and anti depressants, it seems probable that many people are on birth control to help with their depression. for me the birth control regulated my mood swings caused by my period, so perhaps others take it for the same reason?

  51. Endometriosis is not the same as uterine lining, birth control is at best a bandaid for the problems this disease causes. It's important to differentiate as many believe it only equates to a painful period which can be cured with hormones when there is so much more going wrong in the body. Simplest put it could be explained as uterine-like lining, please be well informed when simplifying a disease for educational purposes. 💛

  52. I read a paper on this topic that found in some people the thought, probably subliminal, that they couldn’t reproduce did in fact cause some depression or sadness.

  53. Don't trust a guy who has an opinion on women's contraception. Go take the pill yourself and then come to me and tell me if it causes you depression or not. For as far as I know you could have been paid to say this by the drug company who makes them.
    There are millions of women including me, who have said that the pill made them feel crazy, paranoid, depressed, anxious, and many more. Women whose personalities changed when the started the pill… And yet research on it has been very limited or weirdly quiet..I wonder why.

  54. In my personal, and so obviously anecdotal, experience it doesn't cause depression (because I was already depressed) but can make the depression worse.
    Versions of the combined pill (estrogen and progesterone) isn't safe for me as I had a blood clot while on them (although I do have a blood mutation that upped the risk of this happening)… so I had to try to progesterone only pill… and that drastically worsened my depression! Which is a real shame as I was on it for my dysmenorrhea (debilitatingly painful periods) and adult acne, and it helped on both those accounts.
    My doctor has suggested that I look into different ways of taking hormones as apparently this can alter the levels of the hormones in your body and lessen certain side effects. (Her explanation was that the pill gave lots of spikes in hormone levels when the pill was taken, so the level of hormones was often way about what was needed… whereas something like a implant constantly releases low levels of the hormone, keeping you just about the needed level without having spikes way about the hormone level.)

  55. I was put on Loestrin for my PCOS and painful periods, and it worked WONDERS.

    But it also came with really nasty depression, and the worst part is that somehow I didn't even realize that was the culprit. It wasn't til a year later that I just happened to read a post talking about it, and thinking back…yep, my symptoms seemed to have begun after starting BC.

    So I stopped, and within the next month it was like a night and day difference. The problem is that the period pain is also now back. XP But I suppose I'd rather deal with a few days of popping ibuprofen like candy, over every day feeling bleak and gray and hopeless. It's just kind of shitty that those are my two choices.

  56. This kid had kids at 16 and 2018 has u children. I'm just guessing your pullout game sucks. Cause Noone uses condoms. I'd rather seran wrap actually. Lol

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