Health

Birth Control Triples The Risk Of Suicide In Young Women, So Why Do Doctors Keep Prescribing It?

By Gwen Farrell··  6 min read
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The evidence behind birth control increasing our risk of depression and other mental health side effects has long been quashed by its biggest proponents. Sure, hormonal birth control may have a few “side effects” that need adjusting to, but other than that, it’s essentially safe. Or so we’re told.

Now, we’re learning that not only does hormonal birth control increase our risk of depression, but it nearly triples the risk of suicide in young women. So why do doctors keep prescribing it, and is this risk enough to sever our blind reliance on it?

The Evidence

The study which first revealed to us the harmful and truly frightening associations between hormonal birth control and depression originated in Denmark in 2016. If you haven’t heard about this research, don’t feel surprised. Pharmaceutical companies, as well as the medical industrial complex that sits comfortably in their pockets, not to mention our societal encouragement of women to have fun first and settle down later, are able to shield the majority of us from this kind of crucial information. 

The 2016 research studied over a million women who were prescribed birth control and found that the majority of them were also more likely to be prescribed medication for depression. A separate study, which was published in 2007, found that depression was listed as the number one reason why women stopped taking their birth control. The same investigation found that those women were “significantly more depressed” than women not taking birth control.

Depression was listed as the number one reason why women stopped taking birth control.

It’s one thing for birth control to be linked to depression – which we’re certain by now that it is. But there are far more disturbing connotations for entire generations of women, those currency aging and those to come, when a link between birth control and suicide is discovered.

Here’s the crazy thing. Time Magazine published the relevant report back in 2017, yet most women who consider themselves to be savvy and aware when it comes to birth control – myself included – are just now finding out about this. You won’t see it on the news or on social media, or hear about it in your doctor’s office. And therein lies the problem.

The information once again comes to us from the same team at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark who first uncovered the association between birth control and a higher risk for a depression diagnosis. The researchers investigated women ages 15 and up for a 17-year period (1996 to 2013). Specifically, they looked at the number of women who were prescribed hormonal birth control (and those who weren’t) and their causes of death. The rate of women who had attempted suicide and were prescribed birth control was double that of non-prescribed women. The number was triple for those who had committed suicide. The risk doubled after just a year on birth control and increased 30% after seven additional years.

Reinforcing Harmful Narratives

If you’re not shocked, you should be, and if you are, then you’re not alone. This kind of relationship – which many have been begging the mainstream narrative to examine or at least acknowledge for years – emphasizes what those of us who are critical of birth control have been saying. Birth control doesn’t do what it claims to do, and what’s more, it’s not good for us – mentally, emotionally, or physically

Bureaucratic policing agencies like the FDA are only too happy to advertise the risks of unpasteurized milk or sleep socks for infants which monitor breathing rates, but stay strangely silent when it comes to these mental health risks, as are about 95% of doctors who prescribe hormonal birth control with abandon. 

Because widespread access is the name of the game, not safety, disclosing risks is sacrosanct. 

Nowadays, the support around birth control has become political. The support for birth control has been bolstered by lobbying groups and social media activists who conveniently fail to mention the very real and tangible danger that hormonal birth control presents to our bodies. Because widespread access is the name of the game, not safety (or reality, for that matter), disclosing risks or protesting this kind of obsessive defense is sacrosanct. 

Not only that, but these same proponents see any examination of the risks of birth control – not to mention the hell countless women have experienced – as direct opposition, not as having an informed discourse. Just within the last few years, the movement that claims to be pro-woman has done more to degrade and delegitimize the very real and painful lived experiences of so many more than direct opposition ever could. In swearing fealty to birth control, feminists have effectively erased women they had promised to protect by choosing a supposedly harmless pharmaceutical over real people.

It’s Time To Stop Playing Games

If there were absolutely no alternatives to the convenience and supposed independence that birth control offers us, that’d be something, and much more of a persuasive argument for our culture’s unapologetic, almost brazen reliance on it. But as clearly evidenced by the research, for many women, this supposedly harmless reliance could become a matter of life and death. 

It’s anti-woman to knowingly push a product that doesn’t work and could lead us to harm ourselves. 

I was one of those women who quit birth control because of how it was affecting my mood – depressed to the point of not being able to do anything but sleep and wish for death. I know so many others who experienced the same. Seeing the same tired narrative that peddles hormonal birth control as “basically safe” with annoying but manageable side effects feels like a punch in the gut. As women, the potential of our lives hanging in the balance is not just a side effect.

But the alternatives to birth control aren't profitable for doctors. In fact, they’re free, and with diligent study and commitment, easy to manage and apply to your own life. You don’t have to get your cervix dilated or take it at the same time every day for it to be effective. But you’ll never feel happier and more like yourself. 

Closing Thoughts

At this point in time, the evidence which shows birth control as what it truly is – potentially life-threatening – is five years old. And doctors continue to prescribe birth control, and women are told we’re too inept or too incapable of understanding our own bodies and what they could be trying to communicate to us about our health to do anything else.

Spoiler alert: birth control doesn’t guarantee us the ease and independence we think it does. For some of us, getting that prescription was the worst thing that’s ever happened. And we don’t have to defend it blindly because it seems anti-woman not to. It’s anti-woman to knowingly push a product that doesn’t even work, and could potentially lead us to harm ourselves. 

True reproductive freedom, bodily autonomy, and empowerment aren’t found through a pharmaceutical company, but from learning how to trust ourselves and our bodies. It’s a happier journey for sure, and a much more rewarding one.

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  Fertility  Mental Health  Birth Control
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