Is there a disregard for the effects of contraception on women's mental health?

(195 Posts)
PinkFluffyJumper Mon 06-May-13 13:36:51

I've just been wondering about this recently as I'm planning on giving up on hormonal contraception following some awful, awful mood swings and depression.

I've read about women whose experiences of this (as a result of hormonal contraceptives) have been disregarded by some HCP.

Given that this seems to be quite common/widespread, why aren't the effects of these drugs on mental health more widely spoken about?

alexpolistigers Sat 07-Sep-13 15:03:52

I have just read this thread from beginning to end. I don't know how I missed it the first time around, but I do think it's important and needs to be brought up again.

I am shocked to see how so many women have been treated by their doctors, and shocked to see how so many people's experiences are dismissed and not recorded.

I emigrated years ago, but when I was younger and still living in the UK, I remember visiting the GP about a health issue and being asked about my contraception. The doc asked if I wanted to go on the Pill. I said "No, I'm happy with condoms", and that was that. It wasn't pushed on me at all.

Conversely, where I live now, no HCPs have asked me about contraception after birth. It seems to be assumed that it's my own responsibility. After the last birth, (dc3) I was handed a generic leaflet on the topic, along with a load of other leaflets, and that was as far as it went. In fact, the only reason I remember the leaflet at all is because the woman in the bed next to me, who had just had a horrendous delivery, said "I won't be needing this, as I am NEVER having sex ever again" and ripped it up. Perhaps it wasn't the best time to hand those leaflets out!

MadBusLady Sat 07-Sep-13 13:33:46

Yes Kitten that is exactly how I felt! Not quite like me. It's so hard to separate the causality because women tend to go on it on the cusp of adulthood. I just assumed all that time that this was what my adult self was like. but I don't think it was.

KittenCaboodle Sat 07-Sep-13 12:19:02

Coming late to this thread. I went on ovranette at uni aged almost 21. I took it until shortly after I was 25. As soon as I stopped I noticed an immediate change in how I felt. I hadn't been depressed or anything serious, but it was stopping taking it that made me realise that I had felt different in myself all that time. I suddenly felt 'lighter'. Really hard to explain, but as if something had been suppressed and I'd not quite felt like me, but now I did again.

I have never and would never take hormonal contraception again, including mirena. I too have been looked at strangely by various GPs and other over the years for this. I find contraceptive options enormously limited.

When I stopped the pill it was to ttc. After DC1 we were stumped as to what to do, as we both hate condoms, and dh is latex allergic, so that restricts choice. Breastfeeding was pretty effective in my case, and by the time it wasn't we were happy to go for dc2. I did go and get a diaphragm fitted, but we could never be bothered to use it blush. After dc2 I was much more clued up signs of fertility and lactation all amenorrhoea, and that lasted until we were happy to go for dc3, likewise for dc4, and then with our family complete dh sped off for a vasectomy grin.

LurcioLovesFrankie Fri 06-Sep-13 09:48:17

Nuggets - for me at any rate, the improvement happens very fast, over the course of a week. This is for the pill (and old fashioned ones at that, well over a decade since my last try).

Interestingly I had the same experience with breast feeding. For various complex reasons I won't go into, I went more or less cold turkey on this (stopped over 1 week rather than the 4 that's normally recommended) and it felt as if a fog lifted from my brain and I could think normally all of a sudden for the first time in ages. So I think my brain is unusually sensitive to hormones, whether natural or artificial.

Bizarrely, though, I was OK with IVF drugs (given past experiences with the pill, I had friends looking out for me, because as noted upthread, one of the problems with depression is you don't think rationally while suffering from it) - even the progesterone suppositories.

Yes it's awful

ValentineWiggins Thu 05-Sep-13 23:06:27

This is really interesting - I've had a mirena about six months with weight gain, bloating, random periods and horrific mood swings (proper crazy behaviour). Am actually off to gp tomorrow to discuss but I think it's time to come off the hormones and see what happens!

Really interesting thread thanks.

Both my mum and sister have experienced mental health and weight issues plus cervical erosion whilst on hormonal contraception. So I decided not to go down that road. .. we use calendar/mucus natural planning techniques, sometimes with condoms. It's not ideal, less spontaneous and ocassionally more nerve-wracking as I don't want any more dcs. But for me is still a better option. But when asked about contraception by a number of gps (female) they look completely horrified. I have two planned dcs and am 40+ so clearly is not completely ineffective wink

I agree with many other posters in that women should as far as they're able to educate themselves better about their contraception. I too think it's outrageous that significant side effects eg major depression are seen as acceptable if it means easier baby-free sex for both sexes.

Interesting to hear about the historical perspective and also the current incentives for gps. Not good.

CaptChaos Thu 05-Sep-13 22:17:33

According to the BNF, the progesterone only pills and combined pills with certain progesterone like drugs are quite likely to cause mental health issues such as depression. There are some which are better, but these are more expensive (think up to 4 times more expensive) and leave you more at risk of DVT and stroke. I tried 3 different brands of HC and all of them made me insane, depressed or borderline psychotic. Depo-provera, which was sold to me as the best possible fit, given my medical history was probably the worst. The PIL's in your pill packet aren't deliberately misleading but.....

Big Pharma have a vested interest in NOT informing you properly of the risks of taking their pills. Partly because women might want to explore other forms of contraception, and partly, I suppose because if the general public was aware of ALL risks, then they'd stop taking their meds.

As an aside, I am allergic to latex, latex free condoms are really rather expensive, so I asked for a prescription for them. I was allowed 7 a month. So, between 5 and 7 sexual experiences a month, or pay for them, so no, not always easy to get condoms.

In the end, because of all the dramas with various forms of contraception, I was sterilised. This has proved to be a huge mistake since, but it was the only way to stop becoming pregnant (apart from abstinence, which didn't appeal).

NuggetofPurestGreen Thu 05-Sep-13 19:42:10

Haven't RTFT yet I'm afraid but was just thinking - have been on the pill for last 4/5 years (with a break of a few months). I do have bad anxiety and I think a bit depressed (never been actually diagnosed). This thread has made me wonder if the two are related - however I've always been very anxious and wound up as long as I can remember although it has gotten worse in last few years - but I think it was getting worse anyway before I started on the pill (if that makes sense) due to stressful time in life a few years ago. Can't quite match up the timelines though.

So if I wanted to see if it was related to the pill, how long would I have to go off it before I noticed a difference do you think? (Obviously no straightforward answer there but any advice/shared experiences would be great!)

Thanks.

LRDMaguliYaPomochTebeSRaboti Thu 05-Sep-13 19:26:01

Sure, just let me know. smile

Angeletta Thu 05-Sep-13 19:25:09

Thank you scallops and thanks LRD - I might well take you up on that! smile

Mama your GP's attitude is beyond unprofessional! I find it so hypocritical of the NHS that they will talk about many different forms of contraception on their website but in practice are clearly trying to steer women away from all but their preferred options.

BeCool Thu 05-Sep-13 10:48:21

I am convinced the reason the pill/depro etc work is because no one has sex once they take them!

Mamamamoose Thu 05-Sep-13 00:38:50

I have used a diaphragm for most of my post-pubertal life; but you feel a right dinosaur if you say that to a doc. Yet it is a barrier method which is easily controlled by women and easy and pleasant to use.

As that article points out (thanks for the link), it's as if hormonal contraception were the only option these days. Women find it hard enough to negotiate with doctors without being made to feel like weirdos from the time of the ark. And yes, that is how I felt when I last discussed the diaphragm with a GP.

LRDMaguliYaPomochTebeSRaboti Thu 05-Sep-13 00:33:13

angeletta, if you ever want a hand to hold/the prospect of a nice cup of tea after the appointment in Oxford, PM me, I live round there.

scallopsrgreat Thu 05-Sep-13 00:30:00

I am so sorry about your mum Angeletta and your concerns are completely valid. I am sorry they weren't given the credence they deserve. It is shocking.

Angeletta Thu 05-Sep-13 00:27:54

found this article, not sure if it was already linked, apologies if so. www.telegraph.co.uk/women/sex/10168968/Is-the-contraceptive-pill-the-answer-for-women-anymore.html

Angeletta Thu 05-Sep-13 00:16:36

Thank you Sal. I don't know much about pharma either but I strongly suspect you're right. If so at present the needs of big business are being met, rather than those of women.

I have heard there is a clinic in Oxford which offers the Gynefix - that would be within travelling distance for me and I'm trying to muster courage to investigate further. I'm not actually in a relationship so one part of me would prefer to put off going through what would likely be a painful insertion for no immediate benefit. The other part thinks I should go ahead anyway because the next time I need contraception, this particular option may no longer be on offer anywhere. If Gynefix were more widely available, I wouldn't have to stress about it as I'd know I could try it any time I wanted.

SinisterSal Wed 04-Sep-13 23:34:04

Sorry about your mum, angeletta.

That is an interesting statistic you just gave about Gynefix.
i don't know much about the pharma industry but would hormonal devices be more likely to be under patent than a purely 'mechanical' device that anyone could replicate? And therefore more likely to be heavily marketed all the way down the line

LRDMaguliYaPomochTebeSRaboti Wed 04-Sep-13 23:33:08

Of course you have a legitimate concern!

It is disturbing what you say about feeling like a freak, but I know exactly what you mean.

Angeletta Wed 04-Sep-13 23:27:46

I feel like a freak for refusing it sometimes, it is so ingrained as 'what women are supposed to do.'

Exactly. It's presented as an obligation not a choice.

In my quest for appropriate contraception I discovered a type of copper coil called the Gynefix which is supposed not to cause the heavy bleeding that traditional copper coils do (which is a problem for me because of the endo). Only it's pretty hard to get as almost no one in the UK is trained to fit it - one London hospital did but stopped because they didn't get enough funding. Why is there seemingly limitless funding and training for hormonal options and so little for the alternatives?

fuzzpig Wed 04-Sep-13 22:59:28

That is awful angeletta sad

I would definitely support an MN campaign on this.

I did actually consider having something like the implanon after DC2 and while we discussed the effect on breastmilk and weight gain nothing was mentioned about effects on mental health. This is despite my extensive history of depression including a four month stay in a psychiatric hospital 7 years before.

I feel like a freak for refusing it sometimes, it is so ingrained as 'what women are supposed to do'. I have only spoken to one other woman IRL who has the same stance as me.

Angeletta Wed 04-Sep-13 22:51:45

Thank you LRD. It's the insensitivity that astounds me - so many people seemed not to understand that the early death of a parent might be a traumatic event. I really just wanted someone to hear me and agree that I had a legitimate concern, but that never happened.

LRDMaguliYaPomochTebeSRaboti Wed 04-Sep-13 22:31:48

angeletta that is so sad.

Your poor mum - and you would think, after that, they could have addressed your concerns properly! How horrible. sad

Angeletta Wed 04-Sep-13 22:01:00

My mother died of breast cancer in her late forties. She had taken the pill early in her marriage and was concerned that it might have been linked to her cancer. She thought I would be better off with non-hormonal contraception and consultants at various breast clinics agreed that was the wiser choice.

I had problems with very heavy painful periods from my early teens, later diagnosed as endometriosis. This means I have been under massive pressure from doctors and gynaecologists to go on the Pill/take some sort of hormonal treatment for my entire adult life. When I explained my family medical history, it was basically ignored and my preference for non-hormonal treatments was treated as a bizarre whim. (I was also told repeatedly that I should get pregnant despite being single - unsurprisingly as I was in too much pain for sex). I finally agreed to try a progesterone-based treatment as I was told that, unlike oestrogen, it wasn't linked to any increased risk to breast and ovarian cancers. In fact, I discovered from a breast clinic later that it was - my gynaecologist just didn't know about it. I was promised the moon on a stick if I would take it - it would cure the endometriosis, no more bleeding, pain free etc. None of which happened. What did happen was horrible side effects - basically having a bad case of PMT for over a year. When I complained I was told to increase the dose. I finally stopped taking it of my own accord because the consultant refused to accept that it wasn't working, although he admitted the scans showed the endo was coming back just as fast as ever.

Since then I have flatly refused any kind of hormonal treatment. I'm glad to say that I'm in much better health today but it's certainly not thanks to the Pill or Mirena, which were sold to me as the magic bullet.

I see two main problems here:

1. The medical profession take anything but a holistic approach. My impression is that they couldn't care less what the side effects of hormonal treatments are if the results will not be something they personally have to deal with. This ties in with the attitude to MH problems caused by the pill.
2. Gynaecologists really don't know much about contraception - perhaps because they spend their careers helping people get pregnant (or attempting to bully them into it in the case of my former consultant). I asked my present gynae about options for non-hormonal contraception - she could only suggest condoms. I would use condoms in a new relationship anyway but I wanted a backup too.

My conclusion is that the Pill is like the typewriter. In the 19th century clerical staff were male. Then women learned to type and made their living that way - only for future generations to be confined to admin roles because typing was seen as a female activity. In other words, it started out liberating and ended up confining.

Sorry for the long rant, this is an issue which has been on my mind for a long time.

girliefriend Wed 04-Sep-13 21:33:15

Just found this thread and finding it a really interesting read.

I have been on the pill a couple of times and found it made me feel very anxious and as a plus lost loads of weight.

I had the injection once and it was horrendous, I bled constantly for about 3 months and got zero sympathy for any health professional. Felt generally awful and don't think my periods have ever really been the same.

As i'm now single its fine not to have to use any contraception but if I was to meet someone I would be really struggling to work out which contraception to use apart from condoms (which I like but have yet to find a man who doesn't object to them!)

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