Is the pill making me cranky?

Between PMS, changes in weather, general life and whatever else makes us moody, new research suggests the contraceptive pill may also be to blame.

The oral contraceptive pill is a convenient and widely used form of birth control, but new Australian research has explored the adverse effect it can have on mood – and in some cases perpetuate depression.

How the pill can impact mood

Lead author Professor Jayashri Kulkarni says it’s all to do with progesterone and oestrogen, which are the star hormones of most oral contraceptive pills on the market.

“Pills include ingredients called progestogens, or a mix of progestogens and oestrogens,” Prof Kulkarni explains.

“Pills using lower strengths of these seem to be less likely to cause mood changes.”

A pill’s hormone composition can increase or neutralise your risk of developing low mood or poor mental health, so between your Yaz, Mirena, Levlen, and myriad of other pill options, Prof Kulkarni says it’s all about fitting the right pill to the right person.

Why is the pill making me moody?

While progesterone and oestrogen are necessary for preventing pregnancy, they also influence your brain chemistry.

Namely progesterone, which the authors say can decrease concentrations of serotonin (the happiness and mood-regulating hormone) and therefore worsen mood symptoms.

This can result in mood changes which Jean Hailes’ clinical advisor, Dr Rosie Worsley, says are worth looking out for.

“It’s important that women are aware that the pill could affect their mood,” Dr Worsley says.

“It could make them feel more depressed, more anxious, or irritable.”

The connection between the pill and mental ill health was observed in a Danish study, which found the use of hormonal contraception was linked to subsequent use of antidepressants and a first diagnosis of depression, especially among adolescents.

“I say to all women that I prescribe the pill to, that if they feel it is affecting their mood they should stop taking it,” Dr Worsley says.

Is it the pill, or am I just cranky?

When it comes to telling the difference between a tough day and a pill-influenced mood change, Dr Worsley says it’s not an easy task.

“It can be hard, especially if you have been on the pill a long time.

“Sometimes the only way to tell is to come off the pill for a while and see how you feel.

“Some women tell me how they feel on the pill is different – often women describe feeling irritable, sad or more reactive than usual for no apparent reason.”

How to choose the right contraception

There’s unfortunately no one-size-fits-all when it comes to the pill.

“Finding contraception that suits you depends on a number of things,” Prof Kulkarni says.

“Your age, what you’ve tried before, your general health, and also your mental health.

“The good news is there are many choices.

“Talk with your doctor to find a method of contraception that suits you.”

Contraception extends beyond the pill, as Dr Worsley says non-hormonal methods can be just as effective.

“Women that need contraception could look at non-hormonal contraceptives like the copper IuD,” she says.

“It’s also worth remembering that the vasectomy is an extremely effective form of contraception.”

Written by Hayley Hinze