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Using birth control as a teen can lead to depression in adulthood

Women who used oral contraceptives during their teenage years are at greater risk of depression once they become adults, according to new research.

Findings from the university of British Columbia found that teenage birth control pill users were 1.7 times to three times more likely to be clinically depressed in adulthood, compared to women who started taking birth control pills as adults, and to women who had never taken birth control pills.

The researchers analysed data from a survey of 1,236 women and examined a number of factors that have “previously been proposed to explain the relationship between oral contraceptive use and depression risk”, including one’s age at the onset of menstruation, age of first sexual intercourse and current oral contraceptive use.

According to UBC psychology postdoctoral fellow Christine Anderl, the use of such contraceptives “may have an enduring effect” on one’s risk of depression, even years after a woman stops using them.

“Adolescence is an important period for brain development,” she said.

“Previous animal studies have found that manipulating sex hormones, especially during important phases of brain development, can influence later behaviour in a way that is irreversible.”

While the data clearly showed a relationship between birth control use during adolescence and increased depression risk in adulthood, the researchers noted that “it does not prove one causes the other”.

“Millions of women worldwide use oral contraceptives, and they are particularly popular among teenagers,” added UBC psychology associate professor and senior author Frances Chen.

“While we strongly believe that providing women of all ages with access to effective methods of birth control is and should continue to be a major global health priority, we hope that our findings will promote more research on this topic, as well as more informed dialogue and decision-making about the prescription of hormonal birth control to adolescents.”

The study was published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.