Hot off the presses! A new study has been released that could vindicate social conservatives’ long-standing distrust of birth control for teens. The study shows that hormonal birth control does, indeed, increase the risk of depression. Some pills are worse than others and the patch is worse yet. Teens are the hardest hit demographic here. Those taking the pill are 80% more likely to also be taking antidepressants than their non-pill-taking counterparts. The study was published in the JAMA Psychiatry journal and IFLScience has a pretty clear breakdown of the results.
But before we all go running around in a tizzy, I’d like to take a moment to remind everyone that MOTHERHOOD IS ALSO A RISK FACTOR FOR DEPRESSION.
Remember, if teen girls on the pill are 80% more likely to also take antidepressants that does not mean that 80% of teen girls on the pill are on antidepressants. It simply means that if one non-pill-taking teen out of 10,257 (if I’m interpreting these numbers correctly) has been prescribed antidepressants, then 1.8 teens who are on the pill will be prescribed antidepressants.
I certainly don’t want to belittle teenage depression. A staggering “12% of female youth, age 12 to 19, have experienced a major depressive episode,” according to the Canadian Mental Health Association. That’s huge. That’s truly a big number.
It is so big that it almost matches the 13% of pregnant women and new mothers who have depression.
In fact, if you look at the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention’s list of risk factors for women and depression (that I’ve included below) (ahem, emphasis mine), it is clear that motherhood and depression are closely linked. In fact, getting pregnant in itself would make any woman vulnerable to these risks.
Risk Factors for Depression
Experiences that may put some women at a higher risk for depression include
- Low social support.
- Difficulty getting pregnant.
- Being a mom to multiples, like twins, or triplets.
- Losing a baby.
- Being a teen mom. !!!
- Preterm (before 37 weeks) labor and delivery.
- Having a baby with a birth defect or disability.
- Pregnancy and birth complications.
- Having a baby or infant who has been hospitalized.
Depression can also occur among women with a healthy pregnancy and birth.
So before anyone starts begrudging girls their birth control, for their own good, let’s make sure we’ve taken a good, hard look at the alternative. If robust mental health is the goal, then you can make the case that the pill protects against both motherhood and depression.
This is not to say that your birth control isn’t responsible for your crappy mood or that women with depression shouldn’t consider whether hormonal birth control is the best bet for them. As Holly Grigg-Spall says, writing for The Guardian, “I initially felt elated to read this study. Not just for myself, but for the hundreds of women I’ve interviewed over the years. Mood changes are one of the top reasons many women discontinue using the pill within the first year.” Every woman is keenly aware of the relationship between her hormones and her mood (for lack of a better word) and anxiety levels.
More power to women to make informed choices about their own reproductive health. I just don’t want to see this study leveraged the other way, against the youngest and most vulnerable among us.