Medically reviewed by Sophia Yen, MD, MPH – Written by Pandia Health Editorial Team Updated April 13, 2021
Can Birth Control Help Treat Depression?
Millions of people in the U.S. suffer from major clinical depression. Unfortunately, women of reproductive age have a higher risk of experiencing depressive symptoms compared to other populations.
Depression does not have a single cause, but rather a combination of genetic, biochemical, and environmental factors. Thankfully, there are several treatment options available, and it may take a combination of techniques to help the depressed individual feel better.
For women, in particular, their birth control may play a role in their mental health status. In some cases, it may help alleviate symptoms, but in others, it may exacerbate them. The following article will delve into the relationship between birth control and depression.
What types of depression can birth control treat?
Depression is an incredibly complex disorder – every individual with the disorder may experience it differently. With that being said, there are two types of depression that are particularly common for women:
- Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) – This disorder typically occurs a few days before a woman starts her period. It may be confused with Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) because the symptoms are similar. However, PMDD is distinguished from PMS in that the symptoms become so intense that they disrupt the individual’s daily functioning.
- Postpartum depression – This disorder typically occurs within one year of giving birth and entails increased feelings of sadness, emptiness, and/or hopelessness that last for more than two weeks.
While experiencing some negative emotions is a normal part of life, feeling this way all the time may be indicative of a more serious health condition. If you or someone you know notices any of the following symptoms, consult a doctor; they can help determine an appropriate treatment plan.
What are the symptoms of PMDD?
Many women experience mild PMS symptoms in the week leading up to their period. While these may be annoying to have, they typically do not greatly interrupt normal functioning. On the other hand, PMDD can lead to mood swings and physical discomfort that are so severe, they prevent the individual from being able to perform their normal activities. Some of the risk factors for PMDD include the following:
- Family history of PMDD
- Family or personal history of depression or another mood disorders
- A high-stress lifestyle
- Smoking cigarettes
An estimated 5 – 8% of women of reproductive age have PMDD. For an official diagnosis, symptoms of PMDD must be present for at least five consecutive menstrual cycles. If this applies to an individual, they can consult a doctor who will help them determine whether their symptoms are caused by PMDD or another health issue.
How is PMDD treated?
Although PMDD is a chronic disease, symptoms can be managed with the following methods:
- Changes in diet, namely decreasing sugar, salt, caffeine, and alcohol
- Getting regular exercise
- Decreasing stress and employing better stress management techniques
- Taking a combination of B6, calcium, and magnesium supplements
- Taking anti-inflammatory medications
- Taking SSRIs for depression
- Implementing hormonal birth control
It’s common for PMDD sufferers to need treatment for many years, and to change their treatment methods as they age. PMDD stops once a woman goes through menopause.
How can birth control help with PMDD symptoms?
While birth control is typically perceived as only being used for pregnancy prevention, it has numerous health benefits, such as alleviating symptoms of PMS and PMDD. Those that contain a combination of hormones – estrogen and progestin – are typically recommended for individuals with PMDD.
More specifically, birth control pills that contain ethinyl estradiol and drospirenone are the most helpful for alleviating symptoms in PMDD sufferers. Popular brands that contain this unique combination of hormones include Yaz, Ocella, and Beyaz. However, only Yaz is FDA-approved for treating PMDD, as it has been found to increase the quality of life and day-to-day functioning in individuals who typically suffer from the disorder. Other birth control options that can help treat PMDD include the following:
- Combination pills that contain both Ethinyl estradiol and levonorgestrel taken continuously (a.k.a you skip the row of placebo pills and move onto the next row of pills containing hormones)
- Contraceptive patches and rings
What is the best medication for treating PMDD?
In terms of medication, a doctor may prescribe birth control pills and/or an SSRI to treat PMDD. Birth control can help balance hormones and, thus, decrease the intensity of pre-period symptoms. If birth control alone does not help improve the individual’s quality of life, their doctor may prescribe a type of antidepressant referred to as an SSRI. This medication helps release serotonin (a.k.a the “feel good” hormone), and in turn, improve negative emotions associated with PMDD.
Although the aforementioned types of treatment may be effective for some individuals, others may require a different approach. Furthermore, it is crucial to consult a doctor in order to determine the best treatment plan for your specific needs.
What are the symptoms of postpartum depression?
Postpartum depression in women occurs after they have a baby as a result of changes in hormones. During pregnancy, the hormones estrogen and progesterone are at their highest. The major drop after childbirth may lead to increased feelings of sadness. While postpartum depression manifests differently in each individual, common symptoms include the following:
- Feeling sad, hopeless, or overwhelmed
- Having thoughts of hurting the baby or yourself
- Not feeling connected to the baby
- Having no energy or motivation
- Eating too little or too much
- Losing interest or pleasure in things you previously enjoyed
- Withdrawing from friends and family
- Having aches and pains that do not go away
Some of these symptoms could be indicative of additional health conditions. Therefore, it may be a good idea to track your symptoms in a journal, so you can provide your doctor with greater context. From there, they can help you find an appropriate treatment method.
How is postpartum depression treated?
Like similar mental health disorders, postpartum depression may be treated with a combination of medication, therapy, and lifestyle changes. While some individuals may benefit from one type of treatment, others may require a combination in order to feel their best. With that being said, postpartum depression should not be taken lightly, as it can be very damaging to both the mother and child if left untreated. Furthermore, if you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms, do not hesitate to contact a medical professional.
How can birth control pills help with postpartum depression symptoms?
Birth control may serve as a form of hormone therapy to counteract the drop in estrogen and progestin that occurs following childbirth. However, until more research is done regarding the relationship between birth control and postpartum depression, it can not be concluded that this form of treatment is more effective than others.
How can women decrease their risk of developing depression when starting birth control?
As always, it’s crucial that women are proactive with their health and communicate with their doctors about any concerns or emerging symptoms they may have when trying a new form of birth control. Each individual’s reaction to birth control may vary, so it is normal to notice different symptoms than others who are taking the same type. Fortunately, there are 40+ different pills (not to mention other forms of hormonal contraception) – it may take some trial and error to find your perfect match.
The progestin-only methods, such as the minipill, IUD with hormone, implant, and shot (listed from least risk to most risk of correlating with depression) seem to have the highest risk for depression. This is something individuals may want to keep in mind.
What’s the takeaway?
While there are small risks associated with hormonal birth control, for many women, the benefits far outweigh these potential side effects. Birth control gives women the ability to control when they have periods and when to have children, if at all. It also offers relief from many painful gynecological symptoms, such as endometriosis and PCOS. Thanks to birth control, women can pursue interests and goals outside of childbearing.
How can Pandia Health help?
It’s now more convenient than ever before to try birth control. Don’t forget to sign up with Pandia Health to get your prescription delivered for free. We also write prescriptions for individuals who live in AZ, CA, CO, FL, GA, IL, MI, NV, TX, TN, PA, WA, or WY! If you live in one of these states and need help deciding which birth control might be best for your lifestyle, you can set up an online consultation with one of our expert doctors. Join our community of empowered women and get that #PandiaPeaceOfMind knowing you’ll never run out of birth control on our watch.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can hormonal birth control help with depression?
Hormonal birth control can help with depression. A study published by the American Journal of Epidemiology showed women between the ages of 25-34 who used hormonal contraceptives had lower mean levels of concurrent depressive symptoms. Furthermore, the hormones in birth control may help to boost an individual’s mood and, thus, decrease the severity of depression.
Can birth control make depression worse?
Recent studies indicate that women who do not suffer from PMDD are at a slight risk of developing depression when taking certain hormonal forms of birth control, though this risk is fairly insignificant. Here is what has been found so far:
- Compared with non-users, combined oral contraceptives RR of a first use of antidepressants of 1.2 (95% CI, 1.22 to 1.25)
- Progestin-only pills had an RR of 1.3 (95% CI, 1.27-1.40)
- IUD with hormone a levonorgestrel intrauterine system, 1.4 (95% CI, 1.31-1.42)
- Vaginal ring (etonogestrel), 1.6 (95% CI, 1.55-1.69)
- Transdermal patch (norelgestromin), 2.0 (95% CI, 1.76-2.18)
- Implant, 2.1 (95% CI, 2.01-2.24)
- The shot medroxyprogesterone acetate depot, 2.7 (95% CI, 2.45-2.87)
TLDR; the shot had the highest correlation with depression, whereas the combination pill posed the lowest risk of depression.
Can birth control cause depression?
Birth control does have the potential to cause depression, but the likelihood is fairly low. The progestin-only methods have shown a great correlation with depression compared to other methods.
Why does birth control cause depression?
The addition of hormones in birth control may affect an individual’s mental state. While many women report improved moods while taking birth control, others may respond differently. If you notice increased feelings of sadness after starting birth control, consult a doctor to determine whether you should try a different method.
Can Nexplanon cause depression?
According to the company, Nexplanon (etonogestrel implant) may cause depressive symptoms such as sleep problems, weakness, and mood changes. However, this is not the case for all women – others may notice improved mental health.
Do antidepressants affect birth control?
In most cases, antidepressants should not impact the effectiveness of birth control. Furthermore, it is okay to take both antidepressants and birth control at the same time.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article intend to inform and induce conversation. They are the views of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Pandia Health, and are for informational purposes only, even if and to the extent that this article features the advice of physicians and medical practitioners. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment, and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice.