Birth control use in adolescence may increase risk for depression in adulthood
Women who used birth control pills as teenagers were up to three times more likely to experience depression as adults compared with women who started taking the pills as adults or never took them, according to a study published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.
“Our findings suggest that adolescence may be a sensitive period during which birth control pill use could increase women’s likelihood to develop depression until years after first taking them,” Christine Anderl, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow in psychology at the University of British Columbia, Canada, told Healio Primary Care. “While the conclusion that birth control pill use causes depression would be premature, we tried to rule out alternative explanations for the relationship by statistically controlling for them in our analyses (eg, age at first sexual intercourse, age at first period, socioeconomic status).”
The study was the first to assess oral contraception use in adolescence and long-term vulnerability to depression, according to the researchers. The researchers evaluated women who participated in the United States National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey with information available on mental health and age of first oral contraceptive use.
A total of 1,236 women were included in the study. Of those, 45% used started using oral contraceptives as adolescents, 29% first used oral contraceptives during adulthood, and 26% never used an oral contraceptive.
The analysis showed that women who never used oral contraceptives were less likely to have major depression within the past of year of adulthood compared with those who initiated oral contraceptives as teenagers (OR = 0.31; 95% CI, 0.16-0.6).
Women who did not start using oral contraceptives until they were adults were also less likely to report major depression compared with women who started using them as teenagers (OR = 0.54; 95% CI, 0.3-0.95).
Although the findings show a relationship between oral contraception use during adolescence and depression in adulthood, the researchers noted that they could not prove causality.
To provide more evidence on the subject, Anderl and colleagues began a prospective study that will track hormone levels, hormonal contraceptive use, social and emotional functioning and stress reactivity in teenagers over the next 3 to 5 years.
“Access to safe and efficient birth control is a universal human right and the decision to use one type over the other is a very personal one,” Anderl told Healio Primary Care. “I hope that our research will prompt teens and their parents to talk to their doctors about the risks and benefits associated with different options that are available to them, especially if they have reason to think that they might be particularly vulnerable to certain side effects of these medications.” – by Erin Michael
Disclosures: Anderl reports no relevant financial disclosures.