Medically reviewed by Sophia Yen, MD, MPH – Written by Pandia Health Editorial Team
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 than men or any other age group.
There is no one single cause of depression, but a combination of genetic, environmental, temperamental, and biochemical factors can increase the chances of someone developing the disorder. Although there are many different treatment methods for clinical depression, treatment for every person is not down to an exact science. A combination of medications, therapies, and ongoing support are the most effective way to manage the disorder.
Fortunately for women, birth control methods can help to alleviate the symptoms of depression. But on the flipside, some forms of birth control can worsen symptoms. It’s crucial that women have a good relationship with their doctor to tweak birth control medications so they can get the type that works for their unique lifestyle needs and biochemistry.
What types of depression can birth control treat?
Depression is an incredibly complex disorder. Every person, cluster of symptoms will differ, and so will their triggers and their treatment methods. Also, there are many different types of depression, two of which are unique to women.
- Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD)
- Postpartum depression
PMDD occurs just before a woman starts her menstrual period. Postpartum depression, however, occurs within one year of giving birth. Left untreated, postpartum depression can turn into postpartum psychosis. The scope of this article cannot cover postpartum depression. But for women who suffer from PMDD, birth control can offer some relief from depression symptoms that happen with PMDD.
What are the symptoms of PMDD?
Many women experience mild PMS symptoms in the week leading up to their periods. Usually, these symptoms do not disrupt their day-to-day functioning. But PMDD is a more severe form of PMS characterized by intense, distressing mood swings and depression. PMDD can also cause incredibly disruptive and painful physical symptoms as well. Some of the risk factors for PMDD include the following:
- Women with a family history of the disorder
- Women who have a family history or personal history of depression, postpartum depression, or another mood disorder
- Having a low level of education
- Smoking cigarettes
An estimated 5 – 8% of all women of reproductive age have PMDD. Only a doctor can diagnose PMDD. For an official diagnosis, symptoms of PMDD must be present for at least five consecutive menstrual cycles in the week leading up to menstruation. Another psychiatric or physical condition can not cause symptoms.
How is PMDD treated?
PMDD is treated with a variety of different methods in an integrated approach. Although it is a chronic disease, symptoms can be managed with the following methods and medications:
- 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
- Using birth control pills for depression and hormone regulation
Some women may experience an increase in symptoms as they get older. 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 pills help with PMDD depression symptoms?
While birth control is mostly used to prevent unintended pregnancy, birth control has numerous health benefits as well, including the alleviation of PMS and PMDD symptoms. For women with PMDD, birth control pills that contain a combination of hormones are the best options.
Combination birth control pills that use ethinyl estradiol and drospirenone are the most helpful for alleviating depressive symptoms in PMDD sufferers. Popular brands that contain this unique combination of hormones include Yaz, Ocella, and Beyaz. However, only Yaz is explicitly FDA-approved for treating PMDD symptoms. Yaz is reported to decrease the signs of mood deterioration, while also increasing the quality of life and day-to-day functioning. Other birth control options that can help alleviate depressive symptoms of PMDD include:
- Combination pills that contain both Ethinyl estradiol and levonorgestrel taken continuously with a placebo
- Birth control pills that suppress menstruation all together or to only four times per year can offer relief from PMDD symptoms
- Extending monthly packs of birth control beyond the 21-day cycle can alleviate PMDD symptoms.
- Contraceptive patches and rings can also alleviate symptoms.
Are there any instances in which birth control can make depression worse?
Recent studies indicate that women who do not suffer from PMDD-induced depression symptoms are at a slight increase of depression when taking certain hormonal forms of birth control. Although the risk of depression is increased for all types of hormonal birth control, the chance is incredibly small. Because studies in this arena are new and the science behind it emerging, there is no conclusive data on who is most susceptible to this increased risk yet.
Compared with non-users, combined oral contraceptives RR of a first use of antidepressants of 1.2 (95% CI, 1.22 to 1.25). Using 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 (norgestrolmin), 2.0 (95% CI, 1.76-2.18); implant, 2.1 (95% CI, 2.01-2.24); and (The Shot) medroxyprogesterone acetate depot, 2.7 (95% CI, 2.45-2.87). So, the shot was actually the worst and the combined oral contraceptives had the least relative risk.
How can women prevent experiencing depression symptoms when trying 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. Everyone will respond differently to different forms of birth control, and depression symptoms and episodes will vary significantly from person to person.
The progestin only methods, such as the progestin only pills, IUD with hormone, implant, and shot (listed from least risk to most risk of the progestin only methods) seem to have the highest risk for depression. So that’s something to keep in mind.
Every medication, including birth control, has its risk and its benefits. While there are small risks associated with hormonal birth control, the benefits for most women far outweigh these potential side effects. Birth control gives women the ability to control when they have periods, and when to have children if any at all. Birth control also offers relief from many painful gynecological symptoms, such as endometriosis and PCOS. Thanks to the pill, women can pursue interests and goals outside of childbearing.
It’s now more convenient than ever before to try birth control. Companies like Pandia Health are giving women access to birth control delivery services that are safe and affordable. Contact Pandia Health today to explore your options for hormonal birth control.
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.