I take my birth control more often than I manage to do most things, like homework or taking out the trash. In pill form, it is a daily chore that for years I’ve praised as being simple, pleasant and effective. It takes five seconds out of your day to take a pill and move on, all for the award of having periods that don’t debilitate me and leave me in bed for days. This seemingly pleasant little pill is actually a different kind of pain under disguise.
The Op-Doc above from The New York Times outlines some of the problems associated with a person's journey on birth control.
Birth control pills provide doses of hormones that naturally have a huge effect on your life, but rarely does anyone talk about the fact that birth control can cause drastic mood changes and depression. No one is talking about it, and the only potential solution seems to be that you just have to try more: try different types of pills or try a different kind of birth control altogether (IUDs, rings, patches or shots).
The quest for birth control that is not only effective for painful periods but also for your mental health becomes a game of trial and error, where the consequences are often months spent feeling unlike yourself and feeling like there aren’t solutions. The solution, though, is to open up this dialogue further and conduct more studies on the interaction between mental health and hormonal birth control.
An abundance of other reports that claim there is no association have inconsistent research methods and lack the ability to make a strong conclusion. There are not enough studies being conducted correctly on this relation, and there are not enough people continuing this conversation to make it seem like a more valid discussion point.
The conversation about birth control being a cause for depression is so limited. Many people who may be concerned that their new feelings of depression are related to the birth control may also feel like it’s too much of a hassle to investigate or that their feelings aren’t worth listening to.
A lack of studies and discussion is just one part of the problem. Let’s say on your quest to find healthy and effective birth control, you find a set of pills that you really like. Your OB/GYN will call in a generic set of pills, and the pharmacy will fill them. While generally they will continue to fill the same drug from the same manufacturers, pill recalls, insurance companies, pharmacy benefit managers, stock shortages or a change in pharmacy suppliers may mean they switch you from your usual, beloved pill to the “same pill” made by a different manufacturer.
While these pills are still generic and claim to have the same exact hormone dosages, your body may react differently. Even when there are options to find your same brand that you liked before, they usually involve complicated conversations with insurance providers, switching pharmacies, or paying extra for the pills out of pocket. You usually won’t know if you’ll have the brand switched until you pick up the pills from the pharmacy.
For example, a side-by-side comparison of Blisovi and Microgestin (supposedly the same pill) reveal Microgestin has better reviews and less reported problems of weight gain or depression and anxiety. If they were the exact same pill, the reviews and reported problems should be relatively the same.
This switching is not always a problem, but there are subtle differences between pill brands that can affect some women, and more people should be made aware of this effect.
I’m grateful the pill and other contraceptive and hormonal pills exist, but we should continue to strive toward a better understanding for how these methods affect our daily lives by starting the conversation. For University of Georgia students who take birth control, be careful and watchful of how your birth control affects your mood. Talk to a counselor or a trusted physician. See how your body reacts with and without birth control or try different methods.