Published in Catalogue, 2016
Earlier this month a study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association that analysed 14 year’s worth of data of over 1 million women and discovered correlational evidence that taking the contraceptive pill increases the likelihood of a woman becoming depressed. This particular report was exaggerated markedly by some news sources that failed to understand the concept of relative risk in clinical statistics; NPR’s analysis of the data asserts that in terms of absolute risk only “about 0.5 percent of women who began hormonal contraception developed depression who might not have otherwise”.
This is certainly less terrifying than we perhaps originally understood it to be, but it should also be noted that there were further nuances to this analysis – for a start, the pill was evidently less correlated with an increase in depression than either the patch (4.1% likelihood increase) or the vaginal ring (3.2% likelihood increase) and in addition to this, women on the pill also showed a gradual decline in rates of depression four years after starting their prescriptions to a rate that was even lower than that of the general non-pill-taking population.
Occasionally dodgy science reporting aside, what the distribution of this study did incite was a necessary conversation about the treatment of women in medicine, and how the focus of large clinical trials and reliable analyses has failed us in so many ways. In recent years we’ve started to feel sceptical about these daily hormone doses (yes – for a number of valid reasons) because in many ways we’ve been cheated by a lack of substantial scientific evidence regarding its side effects. I mean how did it take 56 years for a decent analysis to be released observing its effects on depression rates? Did that not seem vaguely concerning earlier?
And yet, this is only a symptom of how women are generally shunted aside by a male bias in medical research. And despite the insufferable nerdiness of such a discussion, we are going to sit down and we are going to talk about this because ultimately it’s an issue that affects us all.
Here’s something you know: female and male bodies are structurally, genetically and hormonally different, this is called sexual dimorphism. Here’s something you may not know: due to these gender differences, research has found that men and women experience rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, autism spectrum disorders, eating disorders and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) differently.