Study of Dutch teenagers shows connection between depression, oral contraception

A study led by a psychiatry student in the Netherlands looked at a national survey of about 1,000 teenage girls and found that those who took oral birth control pills had a greater risk of symptoms associated with depression than those who did not.

However, when those girls got older, they were not as likely to experience the same bouts of crying, eating problems and sleep difficulties they did as teenagers.

The Journal of the American Medical Association published the findings of Anouk de Wit and her team on Wednesday.

The data on the emotional effects of oral contraceptives were pulled from a survey called TRAILS — Tracking Adolescents’ Individual Lives Survey — that followed young Dutch women for almost a decade, beginning in 2005.

Most women first consider taking birth control pills as teenagers, and they are often concerned about the “depressive risks” associated with the contraceptive, said de Wit, the psychiatry student who performed the data extraction.

“It’s important to study these concerns as depressive symptoms may affect well-being and adherence to oral contraceptive use,” she told the health news site Healio.

The study pointed out that when women who took birth control pills were considered as a large group, including all ages, the symptoms associated with depression were not seen as significant. However, when researchers looked at a more narrow age range, concerns arose about the mental health of girls using birth control pills.

In addition, the researchers looked at whether young women who had been prescribed anti-depressants or admitted to psychiatric hospitals were also taking birth control pills, and found that many of those with symptoms typical of teenage depression were also taking the pills.

The team behind the survey also pointed out its limitations.

For one, the TRAILS survey did not ask participants to report which birth control drugs they were taking.

In addition, the self-reporting aspect of the overall survey opens up the chance that some of the survey participants made anecdotal connections between their mood and the use of birth control. The study also noted that teen years can be difficult for many people, regardless of whether they use oral contraception.

Though the researchers were confident in making the connection between the use of oral contraception and emotional difficulty, they recommended against limiting the use of birth control.

In fact, the report clearly states that any adolescent depression related to the use of birth control pills is easier to manage — with the help of mental health monitoring — than pregnancy and potential postpartum depression.

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