Personally, I’m a safety girl. I, much like most 20 something females these days, am fairly proactive when it comes to my sexual health. I’m also (so I’m told) rather outspoken when it comes to breaking the taboos and actually discussing it. I also have a superb family memory that fits this piece perfectly, so suck it up and let’s talk about sex (baby).
Today I find myself being able to tentatively touch on another, equally serious and taboo subject, mental health. As it turns out, whilst we have all been politely hushing our tones when discussing one, the other or both, science has been connecting some fairly startling dots between sex and mental health, that in good sense or conscience, those with a voice or platform of any kind would be negligent in ignoring.
A recent study conducted by Researchers at the University of Copenhagen, tracked the health records of one million women aged 15 to 34 over a 13 year period and ‘explored whether a relationship exists between use of hormonal contraceptives and diagnosis of depression’. Having submerged myself in the mire of fairly intimidating jargon, I discovered some little known facts that, if I had been aware of, I would have absolutely armed myself with and investigated before drawing my conclusions and making some potentially life altering medical decisions. Read: taking the contraceptive pill.
According to figures women who take the contraceptive pill are 23% more likely to to be prescribed antidepressants than those who don't. This rises to 34% for those taking progestin-only pills. Having said that, I happened upon a footnote added by the, previously unknown to me, the Association of Hormonal Contraception With Depression. The organisation tentatively implied that, far from being a purely medication related issue, an overwhelming and unavoidable factor was, controversially, gender. When polled, it turns out that 30.6% of men and 33.3% of women met criteria for depression.
However, while the study and its somewhat startling revelations suggest, the results are by no means conclusive or a cause for collective panic. Infuriatingly, following the initial lead story printed by The Guardian last week, the results from the study have been manipulated and promoted by a slew of news and discussion panels to support their own agendas, but luckily, one loud scientific voice seems to have remained steadfast. Dr Ali Kubba, a fellow of the faculty of sexual and reproductive healthcare of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, managed to simplify and convey the most important message of all - more studies are needed.
“There is existing clinical evidence that hormonal contraception can impact some women’s moods, however, from this study there is no way of linking causation, therefore further research is needed to examine depression as a potential adverse effect of hormonal contraceptive use." - Dr Ali Kubba.
I think the most important takeaway from this long overdue report is the need for all women, no matter the age or school of thought, to see this as an opportunity to explore and discuss their options. With such extraordinarily important issues, the time to address and highlight the balance and relationship between sexual, mental and general wellness could not be more pressing.