World Mental Health Day: Depression, the Pill and Running

Last week I read about a thirteen year long study of over a million women, conducted in Denmark, looking at the link between the contraceptive pill and depression.

The fact that it’s news in itself is worrying and telling. Speak to any woman and she will have experience of depression being brought on by the pill, either as a personal experience or as something that has happened to another woman close to her. Based on these experiences, most women know that there is a clear link between being on the pill and poor mental health. The fact that it’s reported as big news shows how little attention mental health issues really receive. 

As it’s World Mental Health Day today, I thought I would write about my own experience of depression and the pill. Mainly because I started this to talk about mental health issues, because I truly believe that the more our stories are shared, the more they are normalised, and hope that it will help other people open up if they are suffering.

I started taking Microgynon when I was 19. I had never suffered from depression before, but within six months of taking it I was deeply depressed. I stopped eating, losing three stone in less than three months. My periods stopped. I lost interest in everything and couldn’t find joy in anything. My entire life felt pointless, and I felt paralysed most days by existential crisis. The worst thing was not knowing why it was happening to me. It seemingly came out of nowhere.

I was told by my GP that it was normal to feel “a bit down” and no alternative pill was offered, and I was told that I should “balance out” and feel better soon. Basically, because it was an “expected” side effect I was pretty much told not to worry. When I went to see a counsellor I explained the state of my mental health and their reaction was “what…all that from the pill?” as if I was lying. 

Eventually I made the decision to come off Microgynon myself, and took up the prescription for an anti-depressant. It did help. I was lucky and had a lot of support, mainly from Dayve, and I did start on the long road to getting better. When I left university I moved areas and so got a new doctor. I explained what had happened to my new doctor and they were great; they were willing to try me on different contraceptives and took my complaints seriously. I feel like I was lucky. Even with all of this, it took me three years to recover from my disordered eating. I still suffer from occasional bouts of depression. I don’t take anti-depressants any more, but I do need endorphins and they’re pretty much the same thing…! These things don’t go away overnight. 

If you are suffering, you’re not alone. You should absolutely go to your doctor to discuss it. To your friends and family to discuss it. You are not a burden. You are not an anomaly. Don’t stop pushing for a solution that’s right for you, or asking for support. Having mental health issues doesn’t make you weak. 

As for the pill – don’t be afraid to ask or push your doctor on possible solutions. There are so many different formulations of the pill (and non-hormonal contraceptives too!) that there is no need to settle with the first, second or tenth one you’re offered if it doesn’t work for you. I actually take a different pill now with pretty much zero side effects – the exact same pill made my close friend feel suicidal. We are all different! It isn’t your fault. You’re not making it up. Things can absolutely, definitely, 100% get better. Hang on in there, and don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Me, running away from all my problems.