Music student and Wellbeing Champion, Sophie, talks about the potential side-effects of hormonal contraceptives on mental health and shares her own story…
My experience with mental health problems began in school and correlated with when I began taking oral contraceptives. I suffered with low mood, mood swings and anxiety until I finally opened up to my mum about how I was feeling and she suggested that the pill may have something to do with it.
Whilst the NHS states that further research is needed to confirm the link between the contraceptive pill and mental health problems such as depression and anxiety, in my experience I certainly feel that they are linked.
When I became a Wellbeing Champion at Cardiff University, I had the opportunity to be a part of their #LetsShare Campaign. The ongoing campaign is all about encouraging us all to share more about mental health so that we can improve our wellbeing and help break down stigma.
What is low mood / depression?
A general low mood can include feelings of sadness, anxiety, panic, worry, tiredness, frustration, anger and low self-esteem. A low mood that does not go away can be a sign of depression.
Symptoms of depression can include the following:
- low mood lasting two weeks or more
- not getting any enjoyment out of life
- feeling hopeless
- feeling tired or lacking energy
- not being able to concentrate on everyday things like reading the paper or watching television
- comfort eating or losing your appetite
- sleeping more than usual or being unable to sleep
- having suicidal thoughts or thoughts about harming yourself
Depression is more than simply feeling unhappy or fed up for a few days. Most people go through periods of feeling down, but when you’re depressed you feel persistently sad for weeks or months, rather than just a few days.
Depression isn’t a sign of weakness or something you can “snap out of” by “pulling yourself together”. The good news is that with the right treatment and support, most people with depression can make a full recovery’ – NHS website. Find out more about the symptoms and treatment for depression here.
What is anxiety?
Anxiety is a feeling of unease, such as worry or fear that can be mild or severe. Everyone has feelings of anxiety at some point in their life – for example, you may feel worried and anxious about sitting an exam, or having a medical test or job interview. During times like these, feeling anxious can be perfectly normal. However, some people find it hard to control their worries. Their feelings of anxiety are more constant and can often affect their daily lives’ – NHS website. Find out more about the symptoms and treatment of anxiety here.
It is no wonder why the potential link between hormonal contraceptives and mental health issues is rarely talked about. The stigma surrounding mental health is still an issue today, but couple that with the added stigma of talking about sex? It’s a double-whammy of stigma that most people, understandably, prefer to avoid talking about.
I’m here to say that this needs to change. When I was still in school, I began taking oral contraceptives. It was something that very few people knew about, because I was afraid of the judgement that I might face from my family or other adults if they knew.
I had been prescribed them from the GP and knew to look out for any physical side effects such as weight gain or acne. However, I was never made aware of the effects that contraceptives could have on my mental health, and so I suffered with low mood, mood swings and anxiety until I finally opened up to my mum about how I was feeling and she suggested my medication might be the culprit.
So why didn’t I go to the GP and ask for help with my mental health? Well, in truth, I did. I was seen by a health professional, who put my problems down to A Level stress and I continued to have these destructive symptoms for another year. As people often begin to take contraceptives during school or university, I can imagine this might be a common misconception.
Be brave enough to talk about how you’re feeling, even when you’ve been second guessed
A lack of understanding about mental health can mean that discussing how you are feeling with someone may not always turn out the way you imagined.
Being so young, it took me a while to reach out for help again and trust that I would be taken seriously, but if you think you might be struggling like I did, then I highly recommend reaching out to a professional sooner rather than later, and not to be discouraged right away if you receive an answer like mine at first.
I only wish that I had known how significant the effects of contraceptives could be on the mind before I started taking them, which is why I’m sharing my experience in the hope that I can shed some light on this rarely discussed connection.
As part of my involvement in the Let’s Share campaign, I took part in a video where members of staff and students shared their stories. It was such a rewarding experience, and I have already received feedback from friends who related to my experience and were grateful that somebody had finally spoken out.
It goes to show just how important being open about mental health is, because you never know who else is going through the same thing and is feeling just as alone as you are. So Let’s Share more about mental health…
What’s on Your Mind? Let’s Share more about mental health
Watch our #LetsShare video, featuring Cardiff University students and staff, who have been brave enough to speak about their own personal experiences of mental health, in support of the Campaign.
Students have also shared their experiences in a series of blogs:
Support and Services for Mental Health
Counselling, Health and Wellbeing Service
The Counselling, Health and Wellbeing Service can offer support to anybody experiencing any sort of difficulty.
One-to-one therapy appointments are available to request via an Online Self-Referral Form, which can be found on the Our Appointments Page of the Student Intranet.
A daily Wellbeing Walk-In Service (15:00-15:45: Monday–Friday and Wednesday mornings: 09:30-10:15 at the Student Support Centre at 50 Park Place) is also available.
Wellbeing Workshops offer information, support and self-help resources on a variety of mental health difficulties, and several therapeutic Courses and Groups are also available, offering a safe and confidential space to explore issues and develop new skills over the course of several weeks.
Support and Services for Sexual Health
SHAG! is your student-led service committed to increasing awareness and understanding of fundamental sexual health issues, run by a group of student volunteers dedicated to supporting the welfare of the CU student body. SHAG works closely with the Cardiff University Students’ Union and various sexual health organisations to deliver accurate and relevant information to Cardiff University students.
The NHS provides clinics at Cardiff Royal Infirmary (CRI) and in other locations across Cardiff. All clinics are confidential. The CRI provides the most comprehensive Sexual Health service and would be the recommended point of contract for the majority of issues.
If you require a sexual health appointment, contact the CRI on the number below. You can call between 08:30-17:00, Monday-Friday. You may be able to attend a ‘walk-in’ surgery, current opening times can be found here.
Address: Cardiff Royal Infirmary, Newport Road, Cardiff, CF24 0SZ.
Tel: 02920335355 / 02920335208
Sophie, Music Student & Wellbeing Champion.
Your Student Life, Supported.
The Student Support Centre has a range of services dedicated to helping students make the most of their time at University, including: Advice & Money, Careers & Employability, Counselling, Health & Wellbeing, Disability & Dyslexia and International Student Support.
For further details of services, events, opening times and more find us on the University Intranet.