“Alexa, play The Pill by Loretta Lynn…”
You can understand why old Loretta immortalised the pill in her controversial country classic. The archetypal hormonal contraception, its benefits are glowingly laid out for us: lighter periods, reduced acne and no babies. I spent a good 10 years of my life doing the Cilest hokey-kokey, stepping in and out with the pill from the age of 18 until I was in my mid-twenties. It made me feel calmer, clearer of skin and simply more in control during my period - the Johnny Bravo of that ‘time of the month’, if you will.
COVID introduced chaos into many areas of our lives - including our contraceptive plans. Back in lockdown 1.0, many of us found ourselves at the end of a pill pack without any chance of booking an appointment for a re-up or stuck with an out-of-date coil or implant due to pressures on the healthcare system. We even launched our limited edition Hormone Harmony Kit, a curated selection of CBD oil, sheet masks, vegan gummies and HANX condoms to support members of the HANX community (and beyond) who were experiencing the symptoms and side effects of coming off hormonal contraception.
I was one of them. For the first time in a long time, I had to switch hormonal contraception for condoms - and just couldn’t get it out of my mind. True to the old adage, you want what you can’t have, lockdown gave H.C. (as I’m nicknaming it) the appeal of that bad-boy Bumble match who isn’t around anymore but is still in your head. Distance (and lack of distraction) gave me the opportunity to evaluate the positive, negative and even neutral effect contraception has had on my mental health over the years - and I started to wonder about the experiences of those who menstruate, too.
Gender Health Gap
I leant on the anecdotal for a reason. Less than 2.5% of publicly funded research is dedicated solely to reproductive health, despite the fact that one in three women in the UK will suffer from a reproductive or gynaecological health problem - the Gender Health Gap is real and continues to impact our care.
One of the reasons I was proud to join the HANX team last year is the fact that we’re built on the belief that everyone should be given the resources to make informed decisions about their sexual wellness and intimate health. From experiencing holistic sex ed to being presented with the pros and cons for each type hormonal contraception, generations of women have been left in the dark when it comes to making the best decisions for their bodies and just as importantly - their minds. We’re tackling it with our educational classes, Sex Ed for Adults, and our informal forum - but it made me wonder: why is such a central part of our healthcare not further explored or widely accessible?
Let’s Start With The Pill
99% effective in preventing pregnancy. For many of us, lockdown was the first time we’d been off of the pill in years - a decade even, in some cases. Our completed-Netflix-what-next pregnancies counter is tipping into double figures. Jokes aside, for many, this is the ‘gateway’ hormonal contraceptive, quickly and fairly easily dispensed by your GP or sexual health clinic and a bastion in the concept of taking your sexual health into your own hands. First available in the UK in 1961, albeit to married women only - a whole other story - progesterone, which is found in both the combined pill and the mini-pill, is the tricky bastard that causes psychiatric complications including depression and anxiety.
Recently, we asked you: what impact has hormonal contraception had on your mental health? Virtual floodgates were opened and a tidal wave of good, bad and non-committal answers surged through our inbox, usually topped with ‘omg sorry that was so long!!' breaker. Our collective experiences with hormonal contraceptives are deeply personal, circumstantial and unique - here’s what you have to say on the pill.
“Cerazette caused severe bruising on my legs that required a very scary, unexpected visit to the hospital. I wish I’d known that after coming off the pill, it would take so long to balance my natural hormones out and to feel like myself, again… I don’t feel like I’ve ever fully bounced back from all the years taking the pill. I also wish I was offered other methods of contraception but feels like it’s the easiest thing to do when faced with a hormonal problem is to just prescribe the pill.” - Lou
“I’ve been on Cerazette/Desogestral (Mini Pill) for around 18months/2 years and it’s been really good for my mood swings - before I went on to the pill when it was the lead up to my period my mood went from fine to suicidal so quickly it was drastic and scary. I was worried about the idea of putting weight on and spots, which have not been an issue but I have no sex drive or interest in anything sexual at all. I haven’t had sex with my bf for 2 years - luckily he is very understanding and knows that it’s nothing personal. It’s a difficult thing to bring up in the current climate as well because you don’t want to bother the doctors with something like a low libido when COVID is going on… I didn’t even know that low sex drive was a thing you could experience when you're on the pill.” - Jess
“I’ve used the combined pill (first Loestrin and now Mercilon) for the last six years. I wish I’d been more aware of potential side effects and differences between the many pills you can have - I have been very lucky with mine, even when my previous one was discontinued last year and I had to change - but have been surprised talking to friends who have had trouble with it and had to try various different types. It would also have been good to be told more about the various things that can change the effectiveness of the pill, as they’re quite important to know!” - Laura
“I wish I’d known that the first pill would make me bleed for legit 6 months straight!! (best contraception ever lol), and also make me super sad. 💔 The second pill felt good in comparison from the offset (no constant ‘period’) but soon made me really depressed and made me lose my humour/cheeriness completely! It wasn’t noticeable until it was almost too late to get you out the hole it had put you in and also made me retain weight big time…” - Jo
“I wish I knew that the pill can negatively impact your moods and anxiety. Specifically, in relation to anxiety, I was diagnosed with a panic disorder whilst on the pill. Since I’ve come off, my anxiety is much more bearable.” - Anon
And here’s what our very own Dr HANX:
“We’re all unique and respond to hormones in different ways. For some women, hormonal contraception can help conditions such as acne or polycystic ovarian syndrome, but for others, it can cause acne, weight changes, and have a significantly negative impact on their mental health.
Currently, there is not enough research on the side effects of hormonal contraception and the effect it has on mental health is inconclusive. However, there has been research showing an association between hormonal contraception and poor mental health. A 2016 study of more than 1 million women living in Denmark, showed an increased risk for a diagnosis of depression and use of antidepressants was found among users of different types of hormonal contraception, with the highest rates among adolescents.
A lot of progesterone hormone can induce depression, particularly in vulnerable people. Coming off hormonal contraception can also induce a period of fluctuation for some women. The main thing here is to educate yourself, talk to your doctor, and talk to your family and friends – learn from them too! Opening the conversation and making women’s health and contraception less taboo is a good place to start. Whatever you're experiencing, you're not alone.”
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