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Study Links Hormonal Birth Control Use to Increased Suicide Risk

As if taking birth control weren’t troublesome enough — there’s the remembering to take it, the remembering to get it filled, the swollen boobs, the heightened mood swings, and the weight gain associated with some hormonal birth control brands — research published in The American Journal of Psychiatry has linked hormonal birth control use to increased risk of suicide among the half-million women studied.

The women in the study, whose mean age was 21, were followed for an average of 8.3 years. Of these women, researchers recorded 6,999 first suicide attempts and 71 suicides. The studied sample excluded women from participation who had “psychiatric diagnoses, antidepressant use, or hormonal contraceptive use before age 15 and who turned 15 during the study period” and “psychiatric diagnoses or antidepressant use during the study period were considered potential mediators between hormonal contraceptive use and risk of suicide attempt.”

The findings suggest the increased risk for suicide among current and prior users of hormonal birth control is 1.97 for attempted suicide and 3.08 for suicide. Additionally:

Risk estimates for suicide attempt were 1.91 for oral combined products, 2.29 for oral progestin-only products, 2.58 for vaginal ring, and 3.28 for patch. The association between hormonal contraceptive use and a first suicide attempt peaked after 2 months of use.

Researchers ultimately concluded that “use of hormonal contraception was positively associated with subsequent suicide attempt and suicide” and that “adolescent women experienced the highest relative risk.”

I don’t need to tell anybody just how scary these results are, particularly when we consider how many young women, including teenagers, are either placed on or opt to go on birth control for myriad reasons. Whether it’s for medical purposes or due to sexual activity, a lot of teens and college-age women (sometimes with their parents’ guidance and sometimes alone) make the decision, after consulting with their medical practitioners, that birth control is right for them, and to learn that its health risks could extend beyond mere inconvenience is rattling, to say the least.

I personally began taking birth control pills at age 18, partly to regulate my intensely painful menstrual cramps and heavy flow and partly to prevent pregnancy. And I’m not lying when I say I hated it at first. My breasts were tender and full, I gained almost 15 pounds, and my moods swung from happy-go-lucky to sobbing mess in 0.2 seconds flat.

Eventually, after the birth of my first child, I was placed on a different hormonal pill that was kinder to my body, and I have to say, since having a tubal ligation, I actually miss the lighter periods and more comfortable menstrual conditions birth control afforded me. I also feel bad for women who genuinely rely on hormonal birth control to regulate their periods and to aid in responsible family planning — women who are now learning of the potentially dire consequences this seemingly life-saving medicine could present them.

We all knew birth control carried risks. This is not news. But just how severe those risks could be is alarming. And as with any medicine, patients should be aware of those risks, should discuss them with their doctors, and should make a decision that takes into consideration risk-benefit analysis.

And as if we didn’t already have enough evidence that being a woman is no walk on Easy Street, I guess we now have one more item to place in the “daily struggles” category. I challenge anyone who says women aren’t fierce warriors to walk a mile in our shoes.

And I also want to know how that male birth control pill is coming along.