Oral contraceptive pills are linked to lower depression risk

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A recent study led by researchers at Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) and elsewhere has yielded surprising findings regarding the relationship between oral contraceptive pill (OCP) use and major depression in women.

The study, published in the Journal of Affective Disorders, examined data from 6,239 women in the United States aged 18–55 years.

Contrary to common beliefs that OCP use can lead to depression, the research revealed that the prevalence of major depression among current OCP users was significantly lower, standing at 4.6%, compared to former OCP users, among whom it was 11.4%.

Possible Explanations

The researchers offer two possible explanations for these unexpected findings. Firstly, they suggest that OCP use may alleviate concerns about unwanted pregnancies, contributing to improved mental health among users.

Secondly, the study acknowledges the influence of “survivor bias,” where women who experience signs of depression while using OCP may discontinue its use, placing them in the category of former users.

This cross-sectional study utilized data collected by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States.

It carefully controlled for various factors, including demographic characteristics, chronic conditions, and the use of antidepressants.

The research also identified certain common risk factors for depression, such as being widowed, divorced, or separated, obesity, a history of cancer, and for former users, being Black or Hispanic, smoking, having lower levels of education, or experiencing poverty.

Significance of Contraception in Preventive Health Care

Lead author Dr. Julia Gawronska, a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at ARU, emphasized the importance of contraception as a vital component of preventive health care.

She highlighted that while most women tolerate OCP use without experiencing depressive symptoms, a subset may face adverse mood side effects or even develop depression, and the underlying reasons remain unclear.

Dr. Gawronska emphasized the significance of fully supporting women, providing them with comprehensive information, and offering alternative forms of contraception when necessary to ensure their reproductive health and overall well-being.

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The research findings can be found in the Journal of Affective Disorders.

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