During Women’s Health Month, it is important to discuss the connection between mental health and hormones. Mental health can be thought of as a spectrum involving mood and the ability to cope. Women are more likely to experience mental health conditions like anxiety and depression as compared to men, and the type of birth control you take might be a contributing factor.
Anxiety is an extremely common mental health disorder. According to CDC and NIH sponsored research, 31% of all US adults will experience anxiety at some point in their lives. Anxiety is more common for women, affecting 24.3% of women compared to 14.3% of men.
Symptoms of Anxiety
Anxiety symptoms range from mild to severe in terms of their effect on daily life, effect on health, and difficulty to treat. Symptoms include:
- Difficulty Concentrating
- Muscle Tension
- Sleep Disturbances
Although slightly less common, depression greatly impacts mental health. According to CDC and NIH sponsored research, 8% of all US adults will experience depression at some point in their lives. Depression is more common for women, affecting 10.4% of women compared to 5.5% of men.
Symptoms of Depression
Depression symptoms range from mild to severe in terms of their effect on daily life, effect on health, and difficulty to treat. The symptoms include:
- Lasting sadness
- Low Energy
- Problems Making Decisions
- Loss of Appetite
- Thoughts of Self-harm
- Aches and Pains
Women experience anxiety and depression more frequently than men. Anxiety and depression in women are linked to both learned coping methods (i.e., internalizing feelings vs. externalizing feelings) as well as hormones and phases of hormone change. The loss of estrogen increases symptoms of anxiety and depression typically during the week before a period, after delivery/postpartum, and during perimenopause and menopause.
The birth control pill uses synthetic estrogen and progesterone to stop the ovary from cycling. Birth control is beneficial for family planning, improving bleeding during periods, decreasing pelvic pain, and improving mood fluctuations. For some women, however, synthetic hormones (especially progesterone) can increase symptoms of depression and anxiety. Low-dose birth control pills can also lower the total body level of estrogen, leading to symptoms of depression, low libido, dryness, and hot flashes. Many women feel better off the pill, and there are alternatives, such as the IUD, which does not give off hormones into the blood.
Jane* was 28 and had been experiencing worsening depression symptoms since she was put on a birth control pill. She had increased anxiety after graduating from school, moving away from her family, and starting a new job. Jane was also stressed about her brother, who was dealing with serious health concerns. Additionally, she had a history of PMDD, a serious form of PMS that causes extreme mood changes. Jane could tell that she was getting worse but wasn’t sure of the best way to cope with her symptoms.
During her appointment, we talked about her SEEDS® – she was doing quite well with food and exercise but could not fall asleep. After discussing a variety of treatment options, Jane chose an IUD for birth control and stopped taking the pill. With the IUD, her ovaries were able to produce natural estrogen again, and within two weeks, she noticed that her symptoms had greatly improved.
Health Tip of the Week
Know that symptoms of anxiety and depression are common and, if untreated, can lead to loss of success in relationships, work, and quality of life. You are not alone, and you do not have to suffer in silence! If you are having symptoms of anxiety or depression, do not feel ashamed to ask for help. Talk to your OB/GYN or other HCP about what treatment options are available. If you think others are better off without you, know this is a temporary feeling and, most importantly, that it is NOT true. If you have thoughts of self-harm, call 988 and get immediate help from mental health professionals with the Lifeline network.
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