Women who take the oral contraceptive pill are less likely to report major depression than former users, according to a new study.
Researchers say that the link between the oral contraceptive pill (OCP) and depression is still unclear, but they found the prevalence of major depression among users was 4.6 percent compared to 11.4 percent among former users.
The pill is the most common method of hormonal contraception for women aged 15 to 49 years in the UK and US.
The most prescribed pill is the combined estrogen and progesterone pill, but information on the type of pill used by participants in the study was not available.
More than 6,000 women aged 18 to 55 took part in the study.
The findings, published in the Journal of Affective Disorders, indicated that current use of the pill seems to be associated with better mood.
However, the results were different in adolescents.
Recent studies suggest that adolescent women using the pill are more likely to experience depressive symptoms or clinically relevant depression compared to adolescent women not using it.
Lead author Dr Julia Gawronska, a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Anglia Ruskin University (ARU), said: “Contraception is a crucial component of preventive health care.
“Most women tolerate taking the oral contraceptive pill without experiencing depressive symptoms but there is a subset of women that may experience adverse mood side effects and even develop depression, and the reasons are not entirely clear.
“Unlike some previous studies, we found that women currently taking the oral contraceptive pill were much less likely to report clinically relevant depression compared to women who previously took the pill.”
She added: “Taking the pill could provide positive mental health benefits for some women, simply by removing their concerns about becoming pregnant.
“The ‘survivor effect’ could also play a part, with women who experience symptoms of depression more likely to discontinue taking it, placing them into the group of former users.
“However, stopping taking the pill without a suitable alternative increases the risk of unintended pregnancy. It is important that women are fully supported, provided with full information, and offered alternative forms of contraception if necessary.”
The study also found that the prevalence of major depression was higher in women who were: black or Hispanic, widowed/divorced/separated, those with a low and middle income, current smokers, current users of antidepressants, and with history of cancer and thyroid problems.
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