Hormonal Contraception Linked to Higher Risk of Suicide, Research Finds
A higher risk of suicide has been linked with women who use hormonal contraception methods such as the pill, the patch and the vaginal ring, research published in the American Journal of Psychiatry has found.
The findings come from the study of nearly half a million young Danish women who were followed for an average of 8.3 years; the same study found a link between hormonal contraception and depression in findings published last year.
This research found that young women (aged 15 – 33) who used hormonal birth control were three times more likely to die by suicide than women who had never used hormonal birth control.
Researchers also found suicide attempts doubled among women aged 15-19 who used hormonal contraception, compared to women in the same age group who had never used hormonal contraception.
The risk of suicide attempt for women using hormonal contraceptives was highest among teenaged girls and women, and peaked 3-6 months after first taking the hormonal contraception. But this risk decreased with age.
Why Does Hormonal Contraception Affect Mental Health?
Unlike other forms of contraception – like barrier methods such as condoms – things like the pill and the vaginal ring use hormones to stop women from falling pregnant.
“Hormonal contraception is progesterone dominated,” Professor Øjvind Lidegaard, an author of the study, told Hack. “Progesterone is known to depress women’s mood, whereas estrogen does the opposite. As progestogens are expected to act like progesterone, we should expect some influence from these artificial hormones on women’s moods.
“The link [between hormonal contraception and higher risk of suicide] is sufficiently strong enough to exclude a coincidence,” Professor Lidegaard said.
Professor Lidegaard says the findings suggest doctors should be cautious about prescribing women hormonal contraception if they have a history of mental illness.
“If a woman is already depressed or has attempted suicide previously, I would be reluctant to prescribe such a women hormonal contraception.”
Professor Lidegaard added that he believes if a woman who is using hormonal contraception attempts suicide, they should consult their doctor about stopping their use of hormonal contraception.
Which Types of Hormonal Contraception Have the Highest Risk?
Some hormonal contraceptives posed a higher risk of suicide than others, the researchers found.
The patch, which is a hormonal contraceptive that users wear on their skin to release hormones into the body, was linked with the highest risk of suicide among participants.
The authors of the study noted that their findings suggest doctors and women should be more aware of the risks of hormonal contraception.
“Considering the severity of these little-recognised potential side effects of hormonal contraceptives, health professionals and women starting hormonal contraceptives should be informed about them.”