Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Side Effects of The Pill They Don't Tell You About

Yesterday was Mental Health Awareness Day - a day that holds much significance and importance to myself and other people around the world. Today I am sharing an article that I wrote on the negative mental side effects of the contraceptive pill. I feel that this is a topic we all need to get a bit more clued up on and I hope that this article will educate, interest and help you.

Recent studies have shown that the pill is linked to depression. With mental health statistics currently soaring in the UK, it is time that we look at the mental effects of the contraceptive pill and inform young women of the dangers. 

28% of women of a reproductive age are using the combined oral contraceptive pill, often referred to as "the pill", as a method of contraception today - that's more than 100 million women around the world according to the World Health Organisation. So why are we still not completely clued up when it comes to the mental side effects? Like every drug, the pill has a dark side too - a dark side that not enough women are made aware of. Isn't it a doctors duty to make patients aware of all of the side effects of the drug they are taking? If so, why are women still unaware of the mental effects of the pill? Today, the downward spiral of anxiety and depression associated with the pill still shocks so many young females.

Why are our doctors not making it clearer?

The combined contraceptive pill is the most common contraceptive pill used by women around the world according to the Office of National Statistics. The pill is accessible for free in the UK through the NHS and is available from most GP surgeries. It contains two artificial hormones - progesterone and oestrogen - and works by stopping a female's ovaries from ovulating and releasing eggs. The pill does have many advantages; it can help regulate a woman's menstrual cycle and can ease painful premenstrual symptoms. It is over 99% effective at preventing pregnancy when taken correctly and has been proved to reduce the risk of cancer of the uterus and ovary.

In theory, it is an ideal method of contraception for women. 

Loading up your body with additional hormones, however, can come with some unhealthy side effects. The most commonly known side effects of the contraceptive pill are physical symptoms. These include nausea, breast tenderness, weight gain, headaches and acne. These side effects can effect up to one in ten people, and are often the most commonly discussed between doctors and patients.

Studies have shown that physical symptoms are not the most common reason women stop using the pill, however. The most common cause is depression. A recent study by researchers from the University of Copenhagen found that those who took the pill were 23% more likely to be prescribed antidepressants than those who did not.

Shockingly, the study concluded that girls on the combined pill aged between 15 and 19 were 80% more likely to be prescribed an antidepressant than those not taking the pill. 

With all these shocking figures coming to light, why are women and girls alike not correctly educated on the mental effects that the pill can cause? Mental side effects such as depression (including suicidal thoughts), anxiety, mood swings, rage and despair are all common side effects of the pill that affect many women.

Rachel Ford*, a 21-year-old student, took the pill for three years before she made the association between her depression and the pill. "I went on the pill at the age of 16 and it was mainly to help with period cramps. When being prescribed the pill, the doctor said that the main side effect was bleeding irregularly while your body adapts to the hormones," she told me. "She said if I got any rashes to go back straight away."

When asked if she was made aware of any mental effects, Rachel replied,

"There was no mention of any emotional or psychological effects. The physical side effects were pretty well covered, though."

Rachel is just one example of a doctor's failure to inform patients of the mental effects of the pill. "After a few months on the pill, I started to experience extreme mood swings. My anxiety was a lot worse and I remember having strange, dark thoughts. I had a boyfriend at the time and I remember having random unexplainable outbursts of anger, which were very out of character. I was so up and down." Rachel recalled her experience as "confusing" and "scary", explaining, "I didn't know it was anything to do with the pill."

Rachel suffered from severe mood swings, anxiety and depression on and off for three years whilst on the pill before she realised that it was in fact the pill itself that was affecting her. "One day it just got too much and I went to the doctors. She asked if I was taking any medication and my immediate response was no, but then I remembered I was taking the pill.

The doctor advised me to stop taking it straight away and I immediately started to feel better."

Rachel is not alone in her experience. 69-year-old Caroline Jensen*, who is retired, experienced a similar situation. "I went on the pill for around six years in the 70s," she told me. "It made me very depressed with dark thoughts. It took a few years, but I went to the doctor to discuss how I felt and he told me to stop taking the pill immediately. When I stopped taking it, I felt so much better and I've never gone back to it." This was almost 50 years ago, and it is still just as common today.

Why are we waiting until women experience extreme psychological side effects to advise them against taking the pill?

Elina Valerie, a nurse at Birmingham City Hospital, shed some light on the situation. "No mental side effects are discussed when the pill is prescribed, or any methods of contraception for that matter. We are not taught to go through the psychological effects with patients, but it is all in the enclosed leaflet," she said. "If every single possible side effect of a prescribed drug was discussed with patients there would be no time to treat or see anyone".

This is a valid point, but what about the mental health of our women? "Personally, I do feel that women should be made more aware of possible psychological effects relating to the pill, but it is costly of doctors' time," Elina continued. "However, there is no evidence of the pill directly causing depression or other mental health issues; they are only links. We cannot say that the pill causes depression. More research needs to be done in this area."

Elina raised another valid point when she pointed out that the information is in the enclosed leaflet, but is that enough? The average age to start using the contraceptive pill is 16 - the legal age of consent for sex.

Is it realistic to think that a 16 year old will sit and read through the small print?

"I trusted that what the doctors had prescribed me was appropriate," student Rachel Ford said. "I was young and it didn't dawn on me to read the leaflet, which is about six pages long and written in the tiniest print. Even in there, though, it only mentions that a possible mental effect is mood swings." Rachel's friend began taking the pill without her parents' knowledge, which Rachel warmed was a common problem. "My friend wanted to get rid of the evidence so she threw the packet away. I just don't think we can depend on young girls to read the manuals and to educate themselves on the psychological effects."

Late last year it was revealed that the male contraceptive pill is just a few years away from becoming a reality and, surprisingly, it is said to have no side effects. The female pill has always had negative effects, so why is the medical industry working so hard to ensure that the male pill has absolutely none?

"The world of contraception has always been a female world," student Rachel Ford concluded. "If the male pill has negative side effects, men won't take it. Just like they often won't use condoms because it 'doesn't feel as nice'". 

So, how do we move forward from here? Is there another way we can educate our girls and women on the negative mental effects of the pill? Sex education classes within schools seem like a good place to start. When teaching young girls about the precautions that come with sex, surely it is appropriate to also teach them about the effects - both negative and positive - of different methods of contraception. Protecting our mental health, after all, is just as important as protecting our risk of pregnancy. Nurse Elina Valerie from Birmingham City Hospital agrees: "In a sex education class you have have the attention of several adolescent girls. This could be used as an effective opportunity to educate girls on psychological issues that can be enhanced through use of the pill. In many ways, schools have just as much responsibility as nurses and doctors. They have the power to teach mass numbers."

Many women who take the pill, like the examples in this article, are confused or shocked by the depression, mood swings and anxiety they experience. Properly educating girls on this topic would avoid this confusion and shock. It is important that we teach young women that there is a possibility of mental health issues when loading up our bodies with additional hormones and that experiencing depression when taking the pill does not make them, simple, "crazy". Suddenly experiencing depression can be overwhelming and scary, and, naturally, many young girls do not associate it with the pill.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found that only 30% of teens suffering from depression ask for help and seek treatment. 

This demonstrates an inevitable cycle: young girls suffering from depression may not seek help, therefore may not know that their depression is linked to the pill, and therefore continue to take it and suffer from the effects. The education of girls on this topic may give them the ability to realise that their depression is linked to the pill, and it may aid them in deciding to change their form of contraception.

 Luckily, there are other methods of contraception that can be used without making women feel like they are losing their minds. Although most methods of contraception do contain additional hormones, there are versions of the pill available that have a lot less hormones in them, such as Yasmin or Levora. These contain only 20 micrograms or less of oestrogen and are known as "ultra-low-dose" pills. Some women, however, have no option than to avoid added hormones altogether. The non-hormonal coil (also known as the 'IUD' or 'copper coil') can be a mentally healthy alternative for women. The coil works by slowly releasing copper, which stops the survival of sperm in the uterus and cervix. It is over 99% effective and lasts for either five or ten years.

With mental illness statistics soaring in the UK, it is important that we tackle this problem head on. An inquiry into the state of mental health in England alone found that more women, particularly between the ages of 16 and 24, are experiencing mental health issues than ever before.

Young adults are educated on the negative effects of recreational drugs, yet we seem to be completely ignoring the negative effects of legally prescribed drugs such as the pill. 

While our doctors do bear the responsibility of informing patients of the mental effects of the combined pill, it appears that schools should also step forward and educate young girls on this matter. Otherwise, we may be left with a generation of depressed, anxious and confused women.

*Names were changed to protect identities. 


  1. I am so pleased you have made this
    Post. Since being on the pill from 15-21 I am convinced it effected me I a bad way and I would not recommend it to anyone

  2. This is an amazing post and I'm so glad you've spoken about this - I don't think its highlighted anywhere near as much as it should be!

    C x

  3. i actually realised the pill made m moody and fat so i stopped taking it and got my husband to get the snip but we had had 8 children and it was time lol, somethings we dont hear about it should be said clearer though

  4. I hated being on the pill it realky did make my emotions all over the place and I certainly felt more depressed whilst on it.

  5. I am really glad you have wrote about the truths of the pill...great article :)x

  6. I know quite a few people who have had bad experiences on the pill and had to come off it. I have the implant and touch wood so far I've not had any side effects x

  7. Thank you so much for highlighting this! The pill is so easy to obtain and taking it is so normalised, that I think people dismiss (or are ignorant to) the risks of taking it. There definitely needs to be more awareness about this, as depression is such an awful thing which destroys so many lives. xx

  8. I had no idea that there is a link between depression and the pill. Unfortunately some women do need the pill because if they suffer from hormonal diseases. So I guess it does have advantages and disadvantages as well.

  9. The thing that frustrates me the most about this is the way that whenever a male contraceptive is tested, they find similar side effects and then say because of them it's do dangerous to put it in circulation. They KNOW how dangerous the pill is for some girls but they still dole it out to anyone and everyone.

  10. I'm glad for posts like these (and the internet in general!) for being able to get at important information more easily, which I think plenty of women would otherwise miss.

  11. Yeah, there's always side effects and I wonder why! Sometimes, the side effects are even scarier than the actual pill I am taking for some issues. I love all the images you used, really blend in with the content.

  12. I never knew the pill could have a side effect on you mental health. I've had depression since I was 18 but I started the pill when I was 15, so I now wonder if this played a role x

  13. It is very true, its why I was no longer able to use the pill and had to seek an alternative form of contraception. The pill is not for everyone and can create long term mental health issues like depression or trigger mental health issues that you already had.


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