You’re looking for a new method of birth control — maybe one to help clear your skin or prevent cramps. Or maybe you’re considering an intrauterine device (IUD) so you won’t have to think about birth control for the next 5 years. But have you thought about how your choice might affect your mental health?
Since altering your hormone levels can affect your mood, possible mental health effects should top your list of concerns if you’re considering hormonal birth control, especially if you have pre-existing mental health concerns. To help you understand your options, we’ve enlisted the expertise of the staff at Family Planning of South Central New York.
Hormonal birth control options include birth control pills, which can be progestin-only or contain a combination of estrogen and progestin; the patch and the ring, which both contain a combination of estrogen and progestin; and the shot and the implant, which are both high-dose progestin-only options
If depression is a concern, Heather Nannery, ‘16, a family nurse practitioner at the family planning center, said hormonal shots and implants may not be for you.
“There’s certain birth control that can intensify premenstrual symptoms,” she said. “Methods which are high in progestin — we would steer [people] away from those particular methods because they seem to ramp up those moodiness, irritability and depression kind of symptoms.”
Though it’s very possible for other hormonal methods to result in depressive symptoms, Nannery said it’s less likely.
According to Cara Burney, ’17, a community outreach worker and educator at Family Planning of South Central New York, there are over 80 different types of birth control pills, and each one may affect you differently.
“Every body is different … so every body is going to be affected by things differently,” Burney said. “Not only is it the interaction with [other] drugs, but it’s the interactions of your own chemical makeup.”
If anxiety is a concern, Nannery said pills that contain a combination of estrogen and one of the eight types of progestin could pose an issue. According to her, each type of progestin has a different strength and may have varying effects on your body.
Because there many different pills that contain different estrogen-to-progestin ratios, Nannery said it’s possible to find one that works best for you — with a little trial and error.
“If women have noticed that their anxiety is ramping up with that particular method we do have a lot of other options we can offer them. We can cut down on the hormone in that particular [method],” she said. “Depending on what you’re sensitive to we can start adjusting how much progestin [is] in the pill and how much estrogen is [in it].”
For those weary of hormonal effects, Burney said that IUDs such as Skyla or Mirena are great options because the hormones they release are localized, meaning they should affect only your reproductive organs. Additionally, Nannery also said the hormones released from hormonal IUDs are much lower than those released from other hormonal options. And, of course, nonhormonal options such as male or female condoms, diaphragms or ParaGard, the copper IUD, won’t alter your hormone levels at all.
When you’re trying any new method of birth control, Nannery suggested giving your body three months to adjust before testing out a new one. Discuss side effects with your prescriber and take note of any changes — good or bad — that could be attributed to your birth control. Burney recommended journaling or using a period-tracking app to organize your thoughts. Although it might take a while, finding what’s best for you will be worth it in the end.