Some people may experience symptoms of depression after an abortion or pregnancy termination.

In the United States, around half of all pregnancies are unintended, which is one reason for choosing a termination. However, the reasons for not wanting to continue a pregnancy vary. They can include social, financial, psychological, or relationship factors.

In some cases, a reason can simply be a person’s need to limit the number of children they have. This can be due to environmental constraints on their ability to raise children or simply what the affected person believes is best for them. Each individual’s case is unique.

Just as the reasons for having an abortion differ, so can the person’s emotional response to the procedure. This can range from relief, calm, and happiness to sadness, grief, loss, and regret, depending on the individual’s situation.

If negative feelings are severe and persistent, they could be a sign of depression.

However, one expert writing for the American Psychological Association notes: “It’s important for folks to know that abortion does not cause mental health problems. […] What’s harmful are the stigma surrounding abortion, the lack of knowledge about it, and the lack of access.”

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Depression is a mental health condition and mood disorder.

People with depression may involve these signs and symptoms:

  • feeling low or sad
  • having difficulty thinking, focusing, and making decisions
  • feeling irritable
  • lacking energy
  • sleeping too much or too little
  • loss of interest in sex
  • loss of interest in activities that they previously enjoyed

There may also be feelings of guilt and low self-esteem.

Depression can make it hard to work or carry out daily chores. Complications can include relationship breakdown and job loss. For some people, psychotic symptoms may develop.

Abortion is a controversial topic, making scientific research on the subject challenging.

Researchers cannot conduct randomized, double-blind studies on the psychological effects of abortion. Doing so would involve a random selection of people having abortions. Therefore, this type of research on the subject would be extremely unethical.

For this reason, the only available research on the subject is observational.

With this in mind, a 2015 study showed that having an abortion does not necessarily predict the development of a mood disorder.

This does not mean that no individual who has an abortion can experience depression. Depending on their situation, a person may experience grief, stress, or a sense of loss and may feel less able to cope. These can progress to depression.

The American Psychological Association has identified some common reasons that having an abortion can lead to depression. They include:

  • perceived stigma and lack of social support
  • a history of mental health problems
  • personality traits, such as low self-esteem
  • features of the pregnancy, including whether the individual wanted it or not

However, another 2015 study also indicates that depression from having an abortion is not necessarily more severe than depression over having to carry an unplanned pregnancy to term.

In a 2018 study, researchers published more findings involving nearly 400,000 women in Denmark. The results suggested that, although women who have an abortion are more likely to use antidepressants, the risk factors leading to this are likely to stem from causes other than the termination.

Therefore, the researchers conclude that the policies stemming from the idea that abortion harms women’s mental health may come from misinformed findings.

Though not necessarily true for all, for some people, terminating a pregnancy can be a stressful life event. In those cases, it is possible to experience a range of psychological and emotional responses.

Some individuals may feel relief at having made the right choice for them and taken action to resolve a difficult situation, while others may experience various negative emotions.

Any pregnancy loss will lead to an interruption in the hormone cycle. The negative feelings that occur after a planned termination may be at least due to hormonal changes, which are similar to those occurring after an unplanned pregnancy loss.

Common negative feelings include:

  • guilt
  • anger
  • shame
  • remorse or regret
  • loss of self-esteem or self-confidence
  • feelings of isolation and loneliness
  • sleep problems and nightmares
  • relationship problems
  • thoughts of suicide

In addition, if suicidal thoughts or self-harm occur, the person should seek urgent help.

Religious beliefs, relationship problems, and social stigma can also make it harder to cope, especially if these mean that the individual has nobody to talk with about what has happened.

However, if there are additional issues, such as a sense of isolation or previous history of mental health problems, there may be a higher chance of depression occurring.

Suicide prevention

If you know someone at immediate risk of self-harm, suicide, or hurting another person:

  • Ask the tough question: “Are you considering suicide?”
  • Listen to the person without judgment.
  • Call 911 or the local emergency number, or text TALK to 741741 to communicate with a trained crisis counselor.
  • Stay with the person until professional help arrives.
  • Try to remove any weapons, medications, or other potentially harmful objects if it’s safe to do so.

If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, a prevention hotline can help. The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is available 24 hours a day at 988. During a crisis, people who are hard of hearing can use their preferred relay service or dial 711 then 988.

Find more links and local resources.

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Depression vs. grief

The grief that follows the loss of a loved one can lead to sadness and other symptoms similar to those of depression. For some people, feelings of grief, sadness, loss, and regret can occur after a termination or pregnancy loss.

If a person’s symptoms gradually improve with time, they are unlikely to have depression. However, symptoms that persist or worsen could indicate depression, and it is essential to seek medical help.

Anyone who experiences distress after a pregnancy termination may find it helpful to seek the support of family, friends, or a community group. This can help prevent feelings of grief and sadness from developing into depression.

If depression occurs after abortion, this is a treatable condition.

The treatment may involve:

Lifestyle factors that may help include:

  • eating a balanced diet
  • taking regular exercise
  • reducing stress as far as possible
  • learning relaxation techniques, such as yoga or meditation

Reducing the risk

Before deciding on pregnancy termination, 2019 research suggests it can be advisable to try the following:

  • speaking with trusted people
  • weighing all the options
  • seeking medical help and asking a health worker as many questions as possible
  • trying to avoid isolation, as this can lead to depression
  • avoiding giving in to pressure to do something a person does not wish to do, whether this is the termination or continuation of the pregnancy

Terminating a pregnancy can also involve some physical risks, in the same way as any other medical or surgical procedure.

Therefore, it is vital to seek treatment in a registered facility with qualified and experienced professionals to reduce the risk of harm.

Here are some common questions regarding mental health and abortions.

How long does it take to recover mentally from an abortion?

There is no set length of time for mental or emotional recovery after abortion, as this depends on each individual and their situation.

For those people who experience negative feelings after terminating their pregnancy, support can help speed up recovery and reduce the likelihood of depression.

How does abortion affect a person’s health?

A person should talk with their doctor to make sure they understand all of the possible side effects.

There are many reasons a person may need an abortion. Depending on their reasons and situation, individuals will experience a range of emotions whatever their eventual decision. In some cases, a person can experience negative feelings that progress to depression.

However, research shows that depression in people who have had an abortion can have additional causes. Additionally, it may not be more severe than individuals who carry an unwanted pregnancy to term or those who do not have an abortion. In cases when depression occurs after an abortion, treatment is available.