Is it linked? The Pill and Mental Health problems?
That’s a big question. And one I’ve wondered for a while. It’s also a question that I know you’re probably wondering about too.
Ever since I read, ‘Sweetening The Pill: Or How We Got Hooked On Hormonal Birth Control’ by Holly Grigg-Spall, I’ve been researching the links between depression and contraception so I thought I’d share what I’ve read and the effects that being on the pill have had on me.
So let’s start with my story, shall we?
Rewind back to the tiny age of 17. I visited my GP for the first time. I had lost all of my energy. Getting out of bed each morning was getting harder and harder. I began neglecting my health. I was having some very dark thoughts and I wasn’t sleeping. I was diagnosed with depression, offered tablets – which I turned down – and referred for counselling.
That’s where my battle with my mental health began and over the next 15 years I’d have my ups and downs until I’d get to where I am today. Finally taking those tablets and again being referred to counselling.
I didn’t have the easiest childhood. I didn’t live in the happiest of homes but I don’t remember experiencing those feelings of hopelessness before that age.
Furthermore, I was 5 years into having my period but all of a sudden I began to get THE RAGE. You know the type.
The one where you physically rip clothes off of yourself, like you’re Hulking out, if they don’t fit.
The one where you drop a jar from the cupboard and then decide the only thing for it is to throw 2 more on the floor.
The one where someone pisses you off on the phone so you slam the receiver down harder than needs be.
Like I said, I hadn’t had the easiest of times of it up until 17 but I had no idea where this rage suddenly came from. And it wasn’t just rage either. It was utter impatience with EVERYTHING.
My Mum could do that classic Mum thing of calling me from downstairs but not tell me what she wanted… you know…
‘OH FOR FUCK SAKE WHAT?’ *storming downstairs*
And she would get it both barrels. My Dad would bullshit some story about the sky being green when I knew it was blue and he’d receive a tongue-lashing or my sister would get annoyed at me for borrowing her top and I’d have the gall to ball her out about it.
I didn’t know what was happening to me. Suddenly I was equally listless as I was spiteful, as sad and teary as I was angry and vengeful – but why?
I always put it down to my, ‘issues’. My somewhat unhappy childhood. My family dynamics. Our history.
That was until I read Holly’s book and realised that this complete change in behaviour happened around the time I began taking the pill.
After a year on my first pill, Microgynon, I decided to speak to the doctor about my awful period pains, heavy flow, time of the month headaches and sudden weight gain.
He told me there was a new pill that people were taking as, ‘it has less oestrogen in’ which he explained would help me to lose weight and would lighten my flow. The dream for any young woman at the time.
What he didn’t tell me though was that it had synthetic hormones in. Or that one of the side effects was creating a potentially life-threatening level of potassium in your body. Or that Yasmin had a higher risk of causing blood clots than other contraceptives. Or that Bauer, the parent company of Yasmin had to settle over 10,000 lawsuits from women who’d sued them for the injuries and blood clots they’d suffered with from being on the pill.
With that in mind then, how much about your pill do you really know? Could you tell me the risks? The side effects? About the ‘period’ you have at the end of each packet that isn’t actually a period? How many people have contributed their use of it with other health problems that have arisen?
That’s because at the young ages we’re introduced to the pill, we just don’t think about it. And with the minimal training in sexual and reproductive health that our GPs are given, they’re not clued up enough to talk to us about it.
So anyway, without further ado, I switched. Within 2 months my skin cleared up, I lost weight and my periods were 2 days long and light. You’d think I’d be loving life.
Except the depression was getting worse. I was quitting jobs left, right and centre because I couldn’t muster up the energy to go.
But I accepted this as my new normal.
Like this is just what happens as you grow up.
Something else happened whilst I was on Yasmin too. I completely lost my sex drive. I could go months without having sex with my boyfriends during that time. And I often experienced vaginismus with them as well.
Although who really knows if that’s linked or whether they were just shit at foreplay, but y’know – it’s anecdotal.
And back then, I didn’t really have friends that I could talk to to see if they were experiencing the same thing. I just had my twin, who wasn’t on any contraception at this time.
I was on the pill from the age of 17 until 28. Which is when I went to the nurse to pick up my new prescription to be told that they weren’t prescribing Yasmin any more as it was, ‘too expensive’ and that I could go on their alternative. It was then that I decided my ‘body needed a break’ and to use barrier methods of contraception from then on.
I can’t say that I noticed a huge difference. I was still depressed. My weight has always fluctuated. I was less angry and I was far more patient. But my periods were now all over the place.
Sometimes I’d go 60+ days without one. Other times they were fortnightly and light. Then they were monthly and heavy – but I preferred the unpredictability to taking the pill.
I just didn’t think about it any more, until I read this book.
Whilst reading and realising that a lot of my mental health problems began at the same time of starting the pill, I went onto my Instagram Stories and spoke about what I’d read. I asked you whether you noticed a link between the pill and your own mental health and I had no less than 300 messages within 24 hours, all saying the same thing.
A variation of, ‘the pill sent me crazy/made me depressed/make me anxious/made me ill.’
That can’t be a coincidence can it?
So I did more research. I’ll link everything I’ve read at the end and I encourage you to have a read too.
Essentially, long-term studies (not in the UK, interestingly enough) showed a direct correlation between groups of women who suffer with mental health problems and hormonal contraceptives. With women being prescribed anti-depressants way more likely to be on the pill, than those not on the pill.
I’m not a scientist, or extremely well-read in this area, all I want to do is share my experience and open up the discussion.
I appreciate that the introduction of the Pill was a seminal moment in feminist history and for some people it has a beneficial or necessary effect however I also appreciate there are many of you with the same experiences as I’ve had and I want us to all feel less alone.
If you’ve got any worries about how the pill has or may affect you, have a read of these articles and tune in to BBC Two tonight at 9pm, for the Horizon programme, ‘The Contraceptive Pill: How Safe Is It?’
And have a read of these in the mean-time.
What is your experience on the pill? I’d love to chat to you about it!
Success! Now check your email to confirm your subscription.