Contraceptives, such as the pill, have many plus points – preventing an unwanted pregnancy for a start. But while taking hormonal forms of birth control can be an effective way for women to stay in control of their reproductive choices, there can be some negative psychological side effects.
A new study, from the University of Copenhagen and published in the The American Journal of Psychiatry, has revealed that women taking hormonal contraceptives — like birth control pills, the patch, the ring and hormonal IUDs – have up to triple the risk of suicide as women who have never taken hormonal birth control.
Last year the same team of researchers in Denmark found that women who took the pill were 70% more likely to experience depression than those not taking hormonal contraceptives and 23% more likely to use antidepressants.
For the current study, researchers looked specifically at contraceptive use and suicide. They used a national study to track all women ages 15 and older and analysed prescriptions and filled prescriptions for contraceptives, as well as deaths and causes of death.
The research found that women taking hormonal contraceptives have up to triple the risk of suicide compared to women who have never taken hormonal contraception of any kind.
The patch was linked to the highest risk of suicide attempts, followed by IUD, the vaginal ring and then the contraceptive pill.
The key difference between this research and previous studies is that it compares hormonal contraception users to women who have never taken contraceptives, while the previous study compared women who were taking hormonal contraception to those who were not, meaning some of them may have taken them in the past and stopped.
But researchers were keen to point out that the absolute risk of suicide associated with hormonal contraceptives is still extremely low.
What’s more, though the results held even after the researchers adjusted for other factors that can affect suicide risk, including mental illness, other experts claim the study may not have accounted for all of the potential reasons why women who use contraceptives differ from those who do not.
This isn’t the first time a link between hormonal contraception and mental health has been explored. Earlier this year, researchers in Sweden found that two of the UK’s most commonly used contraceptive pills – Microgynon and Rigevidon – could negatively impact a woman’s wellbeing.
A further study claimed that the pill can have a negative impact on libido.
However it is important to note that previous studies that have linked hormonal contraceptives and depression have not been able to effectively prove that the contraceptive method was responsible for that negative wellbeing.
Researchers from this latest study don’t believe the findings are conclusive enough to discourage women from using hormonal contraceptives.
But the data from this and other studies does seem to suggest that further investigation is needed to reassure women that their contraception choice isn’t having a negative impact on their wellbeing.
Researchers are now hoping the results will encourage doctors to discuss the potential side effects of contraceptives particularly with women who might be at higher risk. “We think the findings are a little concerning, and we think that the consequence of these findings is that prescribers of hormonal contraceptives should make a little more effort to assess women before they get a prescription,” Ojvind Lidegaard, the study’s senior author from the University of Copenhagen told TIME.
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