Concerning Contraception is a short documentary that reveals what we know, and more importantly what we don’t, about the mood side effects of hormonal contraception for many young women.
In 2016, a study was released out of Denmark that found women using hormonal contraception have an increased risk of depression. The study was conducted with over one million women, the largest of it’s kind. For years, I suspected that birth control had impacted my mood, but this was the first time that suspicion was validated. While reviewing the research, I noticed that young women were most at risk of experiencing depression. I was unaware of this potential side effect and wondered if this was a factor in the depression that I experienced in my teens. After more research, I quickly realized that not all studies came to the same conclusion and the findings even contradicted each other. So, what was the answer? Did hormonal contraception cause depression or not?
After taking various forms of birth control for over 20 years, I wanted to know the answer for myself and the millions of other women using hormonal contraception. I began production on this film and started contacting anyone who had or was doing research on this topic. I interviewed professors, researchers, and doctors in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Denmark. At the same time, I put a call out to women across the globe to share their experiences. I wanted young women’s personal stories to be first and foremost in the film. I also felt that it was important to feature stories that encompassed a wide range of experiences, both positive and negative. I set out to tell as balanced of a story as possible.
Where I thought I would find answers, I was left with even more questions. I learned that overall, we know very little about the impact of hormonal contraception on mood, and this is particularly true for women under 18. I found few studies that included teens and those that did consistently found an increased risk of depression. Despite these findings, teens are prescribed hormonal contraception at alarmingly younger and younger ages – often for “period problems” instead of birth control.
Additionally, the mood side effects that women experience are not necessarily depression. Some are feeling anxiety, irritability, and overall have a harder time coping with their emotions. Speaking to the experts, I learned that the large majority of the current research is only testing for “clinical depression”, which means that almost all the existing research isn’t including the full extent of potential mood side effects. At the beginning of production, it was evident that more research is needed, but I had no idea that entirely different research is also urgently needed.
Women have been outspoken about the mood side effects of the pill since it came to market in the 1960s. Over 60 years later, we have research that supports their experience, but why some women are affected while others are not is still unknown. Research on the range of mood side effects is basically nonexistent. And it’s essential that more research is conducted with teens. It’s far past time for women to have answers. With this film, my goals are to shed light on the voids of research that exist; to amplify the voices of women emotionally affected by hormonal contraception; and ultimately, to empower everyone who chooses to use contraception with the knowledge they need to make informed decisions for their reproductive and mental health.