Attempted suicide rates lower in women who use hormonal contraceptives – study

Hormonal contraceptives, including the birth control pill, are among the most widely used drugs, the researchers say.

The University of Helsinki researchers used several Finnish national databases (Tim Ireland/PA)
The University of Helsinki researchers used several Finnish national databases (Tim Ireland/PA)

Attempted suicide rates in women using hormonal contraception are lower than in women not using it, new research suggests.

The findings contradict recent studies that had suggested hormonal contraceptives, such as the birth control pill, were associated with a higher risk of attempted suicides, prompting safety concerns.

Hormonal contraceptives are among the most widely used drugs, the researchers say.

We set out to verify previous data, so this is not what we expected, and it’s good news for contraceptive users

Dr Elena Toffol, University of Helsinki

Presenting the research at the European Congress of Psychiatry, lead researcher Dr Elena Toffol, University of Helsinki, said: “We set out to verify previous data, so this is not what we expected, and it’s good news for contraceptive users.”

She added: “Women, especially younger women, have higher rates of depression and attempted suicide than men of similar ages.

“Many women using hormonal contraceptives, especially contraceptive pills, report mood changes as a side effect.

“Initial reports from 2018 and 2020 had indicated that use of hormonal contraceptives was associated with a higher number/risk of suicides and suicide attempts.

“We set out to confirm this data.”

The University of Helsinki researchers used several Finnish national databases to compare attempted suicide rates of hormonal contraceptive users and non-users using data from 2017-2019.

They took results from 587,823 women, about 50% of the total number of women in the 15-49 age range, and found that half of them had used hormonal contraceptives, including pills, implants, patches and rings.

The study found that attempted suicide rates between hormonal contraceptive users and non-users were similarly high in women aged between 15 and 19, but suicide rates dropped in older age groups.

The researchers saw 474 cases of attempted suicide in women who did not use hormonal contraceptives, and 344 attempts in women who did.

Professor Andrea Fiorillo of the University of Campania, Naples, who was not involved in the study, said: “Of course, this striking finding deserves a careful evaluation and needs to be replicated in different cohorts of women and controlled for the impact of several psychosocial stressors, such as economic upheavals, social insecurity and uncertainty due to the Covid pandemic.

“The clinical implications of the study are obvious and may help to destigmatise the use of hormonal contraceptives.”

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