One GP made the connection between the pill and my depression - and now I feel like me again

For Mental Health Awareness Week, Sarah Brown discusses her experiences of the contraceptive pill and its lesser known link to depression

Sarah Brown

Head of Brand & Consumer Marketing Rightmove


On a cold, dark evening late last year, I stood on the Tube platform and asked myself what would happen if I jumped. 

When I got home that night, I stood on our doormat and burst into tears, my poor boyfriend trying desperately to understand what had happened. Admitting to him that I was done, that I wished I was dead, was everything I had tried desperately to avoid in the months before this. 

Depression and I have had a long, toxic relationship since my teenage years. What  started as a mild flirtation with self-harm spiralled quickly into a self-destructive tornado that would take me nearly 15 years to control. I so desperately wanted to be happy - or at least just to feel happy more often than I felt sad.  

An unexpected breakthrough happened one day a few years ago when a new GP asked me a question no one had ever asked me before: when had I started taking the contraceptive pill? 

I so desperately wanted to be happy - or at least just to feel happy more often than I felt sad

Sarah Brown, Head of Brand & Consumer Marketing, Rightmove

And that’s when it hit me - I’d first been put on the pill around the age of 14 as, like a lot of girls, I had horrific period pain causing me no end of problems. Though I’d changed pills a few times, I’d been on it constantly since then. While she was clear that I might see no change, we agreed it was worth a shot for me to come off it for a few months and to monitor how I felt.  

The change was unexpected and dramatic. Even after just a few weeks I felt like a different person. I’d asked my long-suffering boyfriend to help monitor my moods and I was relieved, if not a little embarrassed, by some of the changes he picked up on. 

I had desperately wanted to come off my antidepressants for years, but this was the first time I felt genuinely ready. It took me six months in the end, but I’d finally done it. I was so ridiculously proud of myself. That is why I was so devastated when I noticed old habits reappearing last year.  

I felt broken, worn down and utterly worthless

Sarah Brown, Head of Brand & Consumer Marketing, Rightmove

At first, I thought I could control it - just one of those little blips, something any seasoned pro should be able to control. But it felt different. I couldn’t control it and it kept growing. I felt broken, worn down and utterly worthless. Suddenly I was spending more days crying than not, more days feeling a failure than not.  

While I knew this was nothing to be ashamed of, I was terrified of what it meant. I wasn’t surprised when my current GP pushed me to go back on meds, but I wasn’t happy with that plan either. For me, that was the last resort, not the first.  

Speaking to friends, family and the therapist I started seeing, they probed whether it could be hormonal. Peri-menopause was swiftly dismissed by my GP as a possible cause. What was true, however, was that, a while before, I had cautiously gone back onto a contraceptive pill. 

And so, the morning after my moment on the Tube platform, I decided to come off the pill for the second time. I had no idea if it would help, but it had to be worth trying before I succumbed to what felt like the inevitable meds route. 

It’s been three months now and the change is marked. I feel like me again. While I can’t definitively blame the pill for my battles over the years, the positive changes I have once more experienced since coming off are surely more than coincidental.  

To be clear, I’m not dismissing the effectiveness or usefulness of antidepressant medication. I know it helps a lot of people. However, in my experience, antidepressants are often too quickly prescribed, without first assessing other contributing factors.

I will never know for sure whether the years of pain I endured as a young adult would have been different if I had only met that GP years earlier. She remains the first and only healthcare professional I have met to have linked the two things together. 

There is still very little research on the link between oral contraceptives and depression.  All the same, it is there in black and white, tucked away on the list of possible side effects within the pill packet literature and noted on the NHS website. 

This has not been the easiest of stories to share, but it pains me to think how many other women might be struggling, having not made the connection for themselves. We shouldn’t self-diagnose or leap to false conclusions, but if you’re anything like me, it is surely worth checking whether that helpful little pill you’re so used to taking is really so harmless after all.

Related Tags