Let’s Talk About The Emotional Side Effects of Birth Control

With the increase of availability and acceptance towards birth control, a large majority of women have experienced the journey of finding a form of contraceptive that works for them. More than 30% of Canadian women use hormonal contraceptives, yet it seems we are lacking substantive concern around what exactly women experience mentally in the manner of preventing unwanted pregnancy. Many psychological effects of birth control have been found that should be taken more seriously, however most women, including myself, are not aware of the implications until they show up uninvited into our lives. 

While many young people seek out forms of hormonal contraceptives during prime pubescent years, it can be extremely difficult for someone to differentiate between oneself, their personality, and natural mood versus the effects of introducing synthetic hormones in their body. There are a number of recognized mental and emotional side effects of hormonal birth control that you may want to keep an eye out for:

  1. 1. Depression

    A study of over one million women found a significant relationship between hormonal contraceptives and an increase in the risk of depression. All forms of contraceptives including the pill, patch, ring, implant, injection, and IUD were shown to have the same results. Further, an increase in self-reported depressive symptoms has been found in women using these forms of birth control, however it is difficult to gage the exact number of those who are truly affected.

  2. 2. Anxiety

    Hormonal contraceptive has also been found to increase the risk of nervousness and anxiety symptoms. This is because the hormones from birth control also affect neurotransmitters in the brain such as serotonin and progesterone. Too little or too much of these types of neurotransmitters can lead to the development of anxiety.

  3. 3. Mood Swings

    The implanting of synthetic hormones into your body can undoubtedly affect your mood symptoms. Higher levels of certain hormones, as well as the already-fluctuating state of your natural hormones, may create unwanted outcomes.

  4. 4. Changes in Sex Drive

    Changes in libido due to hormonal contraceptives have been a recognized side effect. Depending on the person, one may experience a higher sex drive or a reduced sex drive in relation to their natural state. 

    The reason for this relates to the effect that birth control has on your body’s development of androgens, such as testosterone. Androgenic hormones regulate your body’s sex drive; therefore, birth control can alter one’s natural libido.

  5. 5. Impairment in Ability to Recognize Emotions

    This finding is relatively new in the realm of hormonal contraceptive research. One particular study found that women who were on the pill were 10% less accurate at identifying emotions such as pride and contempt compared to those not on the pill.

  6. 6. Anger or Hostility

    Increases in estrogen affect serotonin receptors in your body. This can especially causes issues when you are PMSing, because your estrogen levels are at their highest. For some women, this leads to feelings of irritability, anger, and hostility. These feelings may be so extreme that they are unmanageable; this is when you should acknowledge that your body may not be responding well to whichever form of birth control you are on. 

It is important to note that just because these psychological effects have been found in cases of those taking hormonal contraceptives, it does not mean you are experiencing all or any one of these symptoms if you, too, are on birth control. On the other hand, if you are not feeling like yourself prior to starting hormonal contraceptive, and may be questioning whether the birth control you’re on is right for you, it is important to consider the possibility of these side effects. 

The most helpful way to work alongside those who are currently taking any form of hormonal birth control is to become involved in the conversation surrounding serious and sometimes debilitating mental side effects for women. With the various forms of birth control available, it may be as simple as switching over to a different kind to manage your symptoms.

Validating symptoms that may not be physically apparent is crucial in the realm of contraceptive use. More broadly, it allows those struggling mentally to live in a world that acknowledges their problems, and therefore leads to an easier journey towards seeking help. Remember that you are in complete control of your life, and if you are not happy with the way you react to birth control, you are valid in any decision you make going forward!