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With the recent societal shift towards understanding and destigmatising mental illness, the link between the pill and depression is tricky terrain. With women twice as likely to experience depression than men, and new research linking hormonal contraceptives to surges in depression, could contraceptives be standing in the way of happiness?

In the UK alone, 3.5 million women use hormonal contraceptives, with hormonal methods making up 18% of all global contraceptive use. But a large-scale study of over a million Danish women has found significant associations between the pill and mental health, with women 23% more likely to be diagnosed with depression when taking combined oral contraceptive pills, and 34% more likely when on progestin-only pills. The pill’s role in depression calls into question the contemporary encouragement of birth control for young women in a global context that’s already beset by mental health issues.

Drake is helping to destigmatise depression
DrakeVEVO (2012) ©

“People are getting more comfortable with expressing their emotions and talking about depression online,” says Jayne Hardy, founder of depression charity The Blurt Foundation. “We’ve noticed a shift from emailing and private messaging to talking about depression publicly; it’s a big shift from struggling alone.” While young women are using art and social media to explore their sadness in the digital space (the ‘sad girl’ movement), Drake has grown popular for wearing his vulnerability as a badge of pride. 

And brands have been quick to follow – to promote a broad spectrum of emotion that doesn’t stop with happiness. Pixar movie Inside Out – which depicts Sadness, Joy, Anger, Disgust and Fear as characters – highlighted Sadness as an unlikely hero, while IKEA has incorporated divorce into recent ads, instead of picture perfect households alone. But now that a considerable chunk of depression could potentially have been instigated by prescribed medication, the mental health issues of young women could soon require not just resonance, but a moral stance.

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Mira Kopolovic is a writer and researcher, with an MA in creative industries, which focused on artist-brand collaborations. She spends her spare time poring over dystopian literature.

05 Oct 16

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