Women who used birth control as a teen may have an increased risk of developing depression as an adult, according to new research from the University of B.C.
The study findings, published Wednesday in the the scientific Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, found that teens who took birth control pill were 1.7 times to three times more likely to be clinically depressed during adulthood compared to women who started taking the oral contraceptive as an adult, as well as those who had never taken any pills.
Findings from the first-of-its-kind study by B.C. researchers comes as women remain twice as likely as men to develop depression at some point in their lives, explained UBC psychology postdoctoral fellow Christine Anderl.
“Our findings suggest that the use of oral contraceptives during adolescence may have an enduring effect on a woman’s risk for depression—even years after she stops using them,” Anderl said in a news release.
“Adolescence is an important period for brain development. Previous animal studies have found that manipulating sex hormones, especially during important phases of brain development, can influence later behaviour in a way that is irreversible.”
To conduct the study, researchers analyzed data from 1,236 women in the U.S., including the age they began menstruating, age they first had sex and current birth control prescription.
But while the data clearly shows a relationship between birth control use at a young age and increased depression risk in adulthood, the researchers note that it does not prove one causes the other.
“Millions of women worldwide use oral contraceptives, and they are particularly popular among teenagers,” said Frances Chen, a UBC psychology associate professor.
“While we strongly believe that providing women of all ages with access to effective methods of birth control is and should continue to be a major global health priority, we hope that our findings will promote more research on this topic, as well as more informed dialogue and decision-making about the prescription of hormonal birth control to adolescents.”