*This article has a content warning for mental illness and drug usage.
Over the past few days, new information has been surfacing regarding studies into how the contraceptive pill is linked with depression, particularly in young people. Often speculated to have an effect on mental health, the pill has never been blamed outright for mental illness in its users – until now.
The contraceptive pill, colloquially known as “the pill”, was first approved in 1957 by the FDA for severe menstrual disorders in order to alleviate pain. General use for the drug as a contraceptive method was approved in 1960 and since then it has been one of the most popular birth control options.
It isn’t a gross generalisation you or someone you know has been on the pill at some point in their life. I started taking the pill for the first time in June 2015, as I wanted to skip the antagonising endometriosis-induced monthly agony to enjoy my European holiday. Despite the fact that I had an amazing time without having to worry about getting my period while in the middle of a twenty four hour flight, it was in the final few weeks of my holiday that I really started noticing a change in my general mood.
It started with me spilling a cup of tea at my friend’s house and then subsequently crying about it for an hour, which seems extreme (even for me). A few days later I fell while hiking in the Scottish highlands and instead of going out drinking with my new tour mates after a long day I ended up on my bed crying over a scraped knee, calling my mother and wishing I could come home. At the time, I thought it was just homesickness and tiredness from travelling halfway across the world, and I didn’t think much of it and just wished for my own bed.
I stopped taking the pill when I came back to Melbourne because I didn’t see the need to continue taking it, and I integrated back into normal university life and stopped worrying about the downhill spiral my last few days in Europe had been.
Almost a year later in August 2016 I decided that I would take the pill again to skip my periods because endometriosis was constantly ruining my life and this was the only short term solution (and waiting lists for public hospitals are the worst).
After about a month and a half of taking the pill again, I started to notice that, like when I was in Europe, I was slipping into a terrible, depressive state. I have already been diagnosed with anxiety and depression at the beginning of the year, and while both of those are terrible mental illnesses, I know what they feel like and I know the coping mechanisms and techniques that keep me somewhat “normal”, however this was something else.
I was crying over the smallest, most insignificant things, exactly as I had been in Europe. Sometimes people will say to me “oh it’s just your hormones” or “you just have mood swings, darling!” and be on their way, however I knew something was wrong because this is just not the way I act. I googled “the pill and depression” and it pointed me to articles that say that there might be a link between the two but no studies had been done on the topic so there was no conclusive evidence despite the fact that many people had written about how bad they had felt mentally while taking the pill. This really frustrates me because the pill has been accessible for nearly sixty years and it was only two days ago that hard evidence surfaced that the pill can be a cause of depression, despite the fact women have been mentioning the pill and mental health almost since the inception of the drug.
I can say truthfully that my life has benefited from talking to my doctor and not taking the pill anymore. Less than a week ago I was in hospital in a terrible state of mind while still taking the pill, and now I feel better than I have for a long time even after just a few days after throwing the rest of my pill packet in the bin.
With conclusive evidence such as this it cannot be disproven that the pill can take a serious effect on a user’s life, so if you or anyone else you know is suffering from depression and other mental illnesses, please see your doctor or alternatively contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 (http://lifeline.org.au).