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11 January 2017

The Debrief partners with Woman’s Hour to launch Mad About the Pill investigation

The Debrief partners with BBC Woman’s Hour to launch Mad About the Pill investigation

NHS does not have access to the data needed to understand the link between hormone contraceptives and mental health

A survey of The Debrief readers revealed 45% of women who are taking or have taken the pill have experienced depression

Thousands of reports have been raised against Levonorgestrel and Desogestrel hormones

London, 11th January 2017 – Digital media brand The Debrief has partnered with BBC Radio 4 programme Woman’s Hour to launch a new investigation, Mad About the Pill.

As a result of exclusive, and previously unpublished data, obtained by The Debrief, the investigation shines a light on the link between hormonal contraceptives and mental health issues as well as raising awareness, encouraging debate around the topic, and calling for better care for women.

The Debrief want to encourage the NHS to take action by putting processes in place and conducting the necessary research to ensure that women can make a more informed decision about their contraception. Furthermore, the initiative is calling on the NHS to provide support for young women suffering from mental health concerns as a result of their contraception.

Mad About the Pill has thus far uncovered further evidence of the suspected correlation between women suffering from anxiety, depression, panic attacks and even suicidal thoughts as a result of their hormonal contraception. After submitting several Freedom of Information requests (FOIs) The Debrief discovered that the NHS does not currently have a record of women simultaneously being prescribed the contraceptive pill and medication for depression and anxiety. This makes it difficult to currently prove or disprove a link between the two. Several expert doctors have told The Debrief that the issue is known in the medical community.

The Debrief’s editor Rebecca Holman said: “As the data isn’t available – we simply don’t know how widespread a problem this is. But the evidence we do have suggests the link between hormonal contraception and mental health is far more widespread than anyone is admitting, and that young women simply aren’t being given the information they need to make an informed decision about their contraception. We need more research, more information, better communication and more support for young women.

Hormonal contraception comes in the form of the combined and the progesterone-only pill depending on the type and brand of contraception. The Debrief discovered a shocking amount of reports flagged to the MRHA raising concerns about synthetic hormones in contraception. Two hormones in particular (Desogestrel and Levonorgestrel) were flagged the most.

  • 839 reports of psychiatric reactions to Desogestrel between 2002-2016. This is found in six types of contraception.
  • 1377 reports of psychiatric reactions to Levonorgestrel, which is found in 8 types of hormonal contraception, including the Mirena coil, since 1999

These reports demonstrate that significant numbers of women are going out of their way to raise concerns about the link between their hormonal contraception and their mental health, yet proper guidelines or processes are not in place to efficiently monitor the correlation.

Without this information The Debrief turned to their readers to gain further insight into how they were being affected by their contraception. In total 1022 women were asked about their experience taking the contraceptive pill. 46% of these women are currently taking the pill and 47% have taken it in the past. Of these women:

  • 45% said they had experienced anxiety
  • 45% said they had experienced depression
  • 20% reported experiencing panic attacks – which they attributed to their hormonal contraception.

Mad About The Pill and the corresponding program on Woman’s Hour are part of a week-long series of content on looking at the contraceptive pill and how it’s prescribed.


Testimonials – from Debrief readers

Reader 1:When I was younger I just assumed that was how I was. I got down about things, quite stressed and it would result in tears and breakdowns. I got myself so worked up about things, when I look back now I’m like that wasn’t me, I’m actually quite laid back. It was for such a huge chunk of my life, that’s why I would never go back on it”.

 Reader 2: “I began, mainly for my skin and continued to use it as contraception until a couple years go. For a long time, she explains, ‘I just thought I was really sensitive. I cried all the time – arguments, adverts, anything. I would cry at the drop of a hat.”

Reader 3: “I suffered from UTI infections so I came off the pill and started using condoms. It was only then I realised how much it had affected my mood. I would never, ever go on hormonal contraception again.”


Quotes from the experts:

Professor Anne MacGregor: “Prospective studies to address a causal link should not be difficult – it only needs an anxiety and depression rating questionnaire before and after starting/switching contraception and hopefully this campaign will push this forward.”

‘There is a very clear need to try and make pills as safe as we possibly can’ she says, ‘to consider whether actually having them in a pill form is the most appropriate route’

‘Our understanding of anxiety and depression still needs work – the difficulty is trying to recreate or mimic naturalness as much as possible. Clearly synthetic hormones are going to affect different people in different ways. The problem is that we can only look at what side effects people report, and then look at them as a statistical group. But within that group you may have individuals who respond very well or very badly to synthetic hormones.’


Professor Ojvind Lidegaard: “The first step is that the scientific community should accept and recognise that there is a causal relationship between depression and hormonal contraception. When the scientific community has accepted this correlation then the next step is to inform doctors that there is this link so that they can inform the women who get these products that one of the possible adverse effects of these products is that they could get depression. And then women should, thirdly, with this information reconsider whether the best contraception method for them is hormonal contraception or whether they should find others which influence their mood and mental health less. This is relevant, especially, for women with a previous history of depression.”


Notes to editors

When asked about the gap in the NHS information the NHS Business Authority told The Debrief; ‘Data will be available dating back to April 2015, as this was when we started to capture NHS numbers, giving us the opportunity to count the number of unique patients. This will not be possible until our data warehouse is introduced. This is still some way off, however.’

The Debrief submitted FOIs to the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MRHA). The MRHA uses a system called the Yellow Card Scheme to monitor safety concerns caused by healthcare products in the UK. The FOIs revealed that thousands of yellow cards had been raised by users of hormonal contraceptives pertaining to mental health problems ranging from, but not limited to anxiety, depression, mood swings and suicidal thoughts.

After contacting The National Institute For Health and Care Excellence (NICE) The Debrief learned that they also didn’t have specific guidelines on how hormonal contraception and mental health issues intersect in female patients.

Further results from The Debrief’s reader survey were:

  • 46% said taking the pill had decreased their sex drive
  • Of the 43% who sought medical advice as a result, over half felt that their concerns about their contraceptive pill and their mental health were not taken seriously.

About The Debrief

The Debrief is an innovative digital media brand for constantly connected, influential ABC1 20-something women.

The brand launched in February 2014 and is dedicated to delivering a distinct mix of tailored content 24/7, providing relevant content at the right time online, via Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, Facebook and Twitter.


About Bauer Media:

Bauer Media UK reaches over 25 million UK consumers through a portfolio of world-class, multi-platform media and entertainment brands including heat, Kiss, Grazia, Empire, TV Choice, Take a Break, Bella, Magic and Absolute Radio. It creates and curates entertaining media content that audiences love whenever, wherever and however they want through a multi-channel strategy and a focus on product excellence and audience insight. The result is an exciting array of influential brands, content and talent which provide compelling and engaging advertising opportunities with valuable audiences for UK commercial partners. Bauer Media UK is part of the Bauer Media Group, one of the world’s largest privately owned media businesses with media assets all over the globe.


For Further Press Information, please contact:


Effie Kanyua – Bauer Media Communications Director (London Lifestyle)

T:0207 208 3519 M:07878723440

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