Can Birth Control Pills Cause Depression?

Birth control pills in plastic tablet dispenser case

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Birth control pills are oral contraceptives that are taken every day in order to prevent pregnancy. Most women can safely use birth control pills, but pill use may carry some risks and/or side effects for certain people.

Common Side Effects

Women have been enjoying the benefits and advantages of the birth control pill since its FDA-approval on May 9, 1960. The pill is actually one of the most researched and studied of all medications.

Most women can safely use birth control pills, but pill use may carry some risks and/or side effects that your doctor should make you aware of.

Negative side effects of the pill include:

  • Acne
  • Breast tenderness
  • Diarrhea
  • Dizziness
  • Headaches
  • Increased appetite
  • Irregular spotting and bleeding between periods
  • Low libido, or change in sexual desire
  • Mood swings
  • Nausea (sometimes accompanied by vomiting)
  • Raised blood pressure
  • Vaginal discharge
  • Weight gain or water retention

The Pill and Depression

One of the possible side effects of birth control pills is, indeed, a change in mood. If you have a history of depression, you may not be able to continue to take birth control pills if your depression worsens. Studies show that this is not a common, or likely, side effect, but some experts nevertheless disagree.

The results of a study, published in the Journal of Epidemiology in 2013, show that young women using the birth control pill and other hormonal methods were no more likely to be depressed than other young women.

In the push-back upon the publication of these results, the lead author of the study pointed out that irritability and mood swings are very different from depression and suicide attempts, though they're definitely something to bring up with your doctor.

Meanwhile, another study in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology gave some women a cycle of birth control pills and gave other another group of women placebos. At the end of the cycle, the women taking hormonal birth control were actually more likely to report worse mood, fatigue, and mood swings than the placebo group. So it seems that the truth remains elusive.

A Word From Verywell

If you experience any of these side effects, including worsening depression, especially for a period of longer than three months, you should consult with your physician for advice. It may just mean that your birth control pill needs to be changed.

If you or a loved one are struggling with depression, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area. 

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

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3 Sources
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  1. Keyes KM, Cheslack-Postava K, Westhoff C, et al. Association of hormonal contraceptive use with reduced levels of depressive symptoms: A national study of sexually active women in the United States. Am J Epidemiol. 2013;178(9):1378-1388. doi:10.1093/aje/kwt188

  2. Keyes KM, Cheslack-Postava K, Westhoff C, et al. Keyes et Al. Respond to "hormonal contraception and mood"Am J Epidemiol. 2013;178(9):1392-1393. doi:10.1093/aje/kwt187

  3. Gingnell M, Engman J, Frick A, et al. Oral contraceptive use changes brain activity and mood in women with previous negative affect on the pill--a double-blinded, placebo-controlled randomized trial of a levonorgestrel-containing combined oral contraceptive. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2013;38(7):1133-1144. doi:10.1016/j.psyneuen.2012.11.006