Stop justifying women-killers, Italy PM tells judges

ROME (Reuters) – Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte on Thursday criticized judges who granted mitigating circumstances to murderers of women on the grounds they were blinded by jealousy or disappointment.

Domestic violence is recognized as a serious problem in Italy, and this month two sentence reductions sparked outrage because judges cited the hurt feelings of men who had killed their wives or girlfriends.

An appeals court in Bologna halved to 16 years the original sentence of a man who strangled his partner in 2016 gripped by what a court psychiatrist said was “an emotional and passionate storm”.

The killer had found messages from other men on his partner’s phone and she told him she wanted to end their relationship.

In another case in Genoa, a man who stabbed his wife to death was given 16 years, rather than the 30 years requested by prosecutors, with the judge saying the murderer was driven by “anger and desperation, deep disappointment and resentment”.

The man had discovered his wife had not left her lover as she had promised.

With women’s rights advocates up in arms, Conte, a trained lawyer, stepped into the debate with a post on Facebook saying that while judges must remain independent, such cases raised cultural issues he felt bound to comment on.

“We must clarify with force that NO EMOTIONAL REACTION, NO FEELINGS, HOWEVER INTENSE, can justify or mitigate the gravity of femicide,” he wrote, using capital letters to ram home the message.

In another contested ruling whose reasons were made public this month, an appeals court in Ancona overturned a rape conviction noting that the two suspects had found the victim too unattractive and “masculine” to want to rape her.

Conte, who is not a member of either of the two ruling parties — the rightist League and the populist 5-Star Movement — said Italy must achieve a “cultural revolution” in its attitudes to women in order to build “a better society”.

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Pregnant women who smoke ONE cigarette a day 'DOUBLE the risk of sudden infant death'

Scientists from the Seattle Children's Research Institute and Microsoft have been collecting data about how smoking contributes to babies dying suddenly and unexpectedly before their first birthday.

The study found that smoking any amount during pregnancy – even just one cig a day – doubles the risk.

And for those who smoke between one and 20 cigarettes a day, the odds of sudden unexpected infant death (SUID) increase by 0.07 with each extra cig smoked.

"With this information, doctors can better counsel pregnant women about their smoking habits, knowing that the number of cigarettes smoked daily during pregnancy significantly impacts the risk for SUID," said Dr Tatiana Anderson, a researcher in Seattle Children's Center for Integrative Brain Research and lead author on the study.

"Similar to public health campaigns that educated parents about the importance of infant sleep position, leading to a 50 per cent decrease in sudden infant death syndrome(SIDS) rates, we hope advising women about this risk will result in fewer babies dying from these tragic causes."

There are around 3,700 deaths from SUID every year in the USA, and Dr Anderson estimated that if no women smoked during their pregnancies, that would be lowered by around 22 per cent.

Between 1967 and 1980, the rates of married pregnant smokers went down significantly.

One study found that the numbers went down from 45 per cent to 30 per cent of white mums, and from 40 per cent to 25 per cent of black mums.

According to one review, in 1985, 25.1 per cent of all women in the USA continued smoking after learning that they were pregnant.

Today, it's estimated that around one in 14, or 7.2 per cent of pregnant women still smoke in America. In the UK, that's more like 10.5 per cent of women.

In 2015, 32 per cent of British mums smoked before or during pregnancy, and 17 per cent of those continued to do so throughout.

As for the rates of stillbirths, stateside, they've declined massively over the past thirty years.

The CDC Wonder and the National Centre of Health Statistics says that in 1980, there were 153 sudden deaths for every 100,000 live births. By 2010, that had dropped to just 51.6 per cent.

To study the effect smoking had on SUID risk, scientists analysed the smoking habits of mums for all USA live births between 2007 and 2011.

Of the 20 million live births included, over 19,000 deaths were caused by SUID.

As well as how many cigs smoked, scientists look at how smoking before pregnancy and cutting back or quitting during pregnancy affected the risk.

Women who reduced their cig consumption by the third trimester saw a 12 per cent decrease in sudden death risk, while successful quitters saw their risk drop by 23 per cent.

"The most important takeaway is for women to understand that quitting smoking before and during pregnancy by far results in the greatest reduction in SUID risk," said Dr Anderson.

"For pregnant women unable to quit entirely, every cigarette they can eliminate will reduce the odds of their child dying suddenly and unexpectedly from SUID."

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What It Feels Like to Travel While Black

I woke up at 6 a.m. in a tiny hotel room in Tokyo, checked my phone, and found an email from our hostel in Kyoto: “You missed your check-in date.” In a half-awake frantic moment, I rummaged through my bag to find the itinerary I had printed out before we left New York. We were supposed to have left Tokyo the day before to head to Kyoto. It slowly hit me that we had accidentally overstayed our reservation at this accommodation and no one at the front desk had said a thing. I woke up my boyfriend, screamed at him to pack up as quickly as possible, and we ran out of there like criminals in the early morning light.

The jet lag had overcome me since our arrival, and I had gotten my days mixed up, which was the most innocent of blunders. However, the main feeling overflowing me in that moment wasn’t shame over this simple mistake, but instead, “Oh God, they’re going to think I’m a horrible, stealing, gross, American black woman with no respect for their hotel.” My white boyfriend couldn’t fathom why I was so upset over this mishap. But as a white person, of course he’ll never understand what it is like to not just inhabit a person of color’s body, but to travel while black.

When I go abroad, I feel the weight of the world on my shoulders to be a good example of a black woman so negative stereotypes don’t continue, especially in homogeneous cultures where there is a lack of diversity. The media doesn’t exactly portray black people incredibly well, and people watch it and make assumptions about what we’re like based on the color of our skin. In some places, they’ve rarely even seen a black person in real life.

I am constantly aware of every move I make when I step outside of the United States. There is not a single moment when I am not cognizant of how I’m representing myself as I walk through the streets of Bangkok or photograph the monuments of Paris. It’s a stinging fear of my presence in their country not being a positive one and therefore contributing to their biases toward people who look like me. When a white person does something unfortunate, they don’t become an example of their entire race. But when one black person does something wrong, it paints us all that way in the eyes of others.

I feel that I am lucky that my travels have not included overt racism toward me, and that shows me the world is changing a lot in its ideals and how it treats people. For some, an article such as this might be talking about the moments of discrimination they’ve faced while journeying, but I am thankful that I’ve seemingly been born in a time that lends better to my presence in a place not leading to a negative slur or race-based attacked. The worst treatment has unfortunately come from my being a woman more than anything else.

I think of all the people in the past who looked like me and had adventurous spirits but couldn’t go anywhere, and I feel that I have no right at all to complain about what it’s like today. Black people are traveling more than ever. It’s not a secret that there are many websites and Facebook groups out there that cater to a diverse group of travelers to inspire and connect with one another. There are finally amazing travel bloggers of color going to places in the world and reporting on what it’s like to actually be there, sharing their experiences as diverse globetrotters.

But the numbers are still small compared to affluent white voyagers. Fear of how you may be treated, discouragement from your family and peers, or even just lack of resources to make a trip happen mean that there are still fewer people of color stepping out into much of the world, and there are instances of black people being stared at or even pulled into photographs like a celebrity because of their rare appearances in certain cultures. I have yet to be the subject of a selfie, but I have gotten called “Beyoncé” and “Oprah” before, despite looking nothing like them.

Traveling as a black woman is a form of activism to me. I strive to change perceptions through my actions abroad. I never want to leave a country having made a local citizen think lesser of black people due to something I have done. I act respectfully, dress according to cultural standards, attempt to learn basic words in their language, respond politely, and interact cordially with those I meet. It’s all done in order to maintain some sort of picture that I am not whatever ill-willed nonsense American media wants to portray me as and that there’s no reason to be afraid or suspicious of my actions, just in the same way I wouldn’t want a security guard following me through a store as I shop.

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Women determined to succeed in US film industry

In spite of the current under-representation of women, about half of film graduates are female, and they are determined to make it.

    As Hollywood gears up for its biggest night, the Oscars, filmmakers are drawing attention to the lack of women working in the industry.

    Despite the fact that women make up about 50% of film school graduates, they remain starkly under-represented in film-making.

    There’s a glimmer of hope in this year’s Academy Award nominations, and that is feeding the determination of many female directors to succeed.

    But for many, change is still coming too slowly.


    Al Jazeera’s Rob Reynolds reports from Los Angeles.

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    Women complain about ‘KETO CROTCH’ after going on the low-carb diet

    The downside of dieting? Women say they are suffering with smelly ‘KETO CROTCH’ as a result of following the low-carb regimen loved by stars like Gwyneth Paltrow and Jenna Jameson

    • Celebrities including Jenna, 44, and Gwenyth, 46, have promoted the keto diet
    • The low-carb diet involves limiting the carbs consumed and instead filling up on food high in healthy fat and protein
    • But some women say the diet has caused ‘keto crotch’, which is a change in the odor emitted from the vagina due to the low-carb diet
    • OB/GYN Dr. Sherry A. Ross told that food can alter a vagina’s odor
    • She recommended visiting with a professional if this occurs to avoid infections

    The keto diet has risen in popularity as a fad weight-loss solution for people who want to drop pounds off their body. 

    Celebrities including Gwenyth Paltrow, 46, and Jenna Jameson, 44, have toted the benefits of the low-carb diet to help lose weight and stay healthy. But some women on the diet have complained about changes in their feminine region — which has since been nicknamed the ‘keto crotch’. 

    According to Women’s Health, there has been an increase in women saying their vaginas have emitted a strong odor after altering their diet. 

    Change: Women have said they experienced a change in their vagina odor called ‘keto crotch’ after going on the low-carb diet (stock photo)

    Fan: Celebrities such as Jenna Jameson, 44, (pictured) and Gwenyth Paltrow, 46, have promoted the keto diet as a healthy option to lose weight 

    The publication made clear ‘keto crotch’ has not been scientifically proven to occur in women’s bodies after altering their diet. 

    But experts have explained that it is possible for the vagina’s odors to alter because of the change in food consumption.

    OB/GYN Dr. Sherry A. Ross, women’s health expert and author of She-ology,’ explained in an interview with why food can alter the odors emitted from the vagina. 

    ‘The saying “you are what you eat” holds true to odors coming from the vagina,’ she said.  

    Healthy: The keto diet, which Gwenyth (pictured) promoted on Goop, involves lowering the carbs consumed and instead eating healthy fats and protein

    On the keto diet, the body will enter into the metabolic state of ketosis where fats will be broken down for fuel instead of carbs. Ketosis then releases ketones — chemicals made in the liver — which can then cause an alteration in how someone’s breath, poop, pee and vaginal discharge smell. 

    Previously, people have complained about keto breath while on the diet, which causes the smell of acetone (the main ingredient in nail polish remover) on the breath. 

    But the keto diet can also alter vaginal pH levels, which would then change the odor. 

    Dr. Ross explained how altering the number of fats and carbs in a woman’s diet is not the only food change that could impact the vagina. 

    ‘Pungent foods and spices seem to take a fast lane in our bodies through the blood stream, lungs, sweat, and vaginal secretions creating especially intense smells under arms, on the scalp, in the genital area…just about everywhere,’ Dr. Ross said. 

    ‘Foods that may give off a notably offensive odor include: garlic, onions, mint, turmeric, curry, blue cheese and other fermented foods, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, broccoli and asparagus.’ 

    There are foods, though, capable of making making odors emitted from the vagina better.   

    ‘The good news is that there are foods that can combat offensive odors and actually add a sweet smell or taste to the vagina,’ Dr. Ross said. These foods include fresh fruit, fruit juices, whole grains and Greek yogurt.  

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    Altered: Speaking to, women’s health expert Dr. Sherry A. Ross said food can cause a change in a vagina’s odor because ‘you are what you eat (stock photo)

    The discussion of ‘keto crotch’ was first noticed on Reddit when multiple women turned to the anonymous forum to state their concerns about how their body was changing because of the low-carb diet. 

    ‘I want to know if this is something I should be concerned about,’ one woman wrote in the forum while detailing her symptoms, which included a change in odor. 

    A majority of women who also experienced vaginal changes admitted their bodies ‘leveled out’ after months on the keto diet.

    But Dr. Ross recommended for any woman experiencing a change in her body odor to see an expert if it persists.  

    ‘If a food gives you foul-smelling urine, farts, or breath, chances are it will affect the taste and smell of your vagina,’ she said.

    ‘After a thorough examination of possible dietary changes, I would suggest seeing your healthcare provider to eliminate the possibility of vaginal infection.’

    Besides the possibility of getting ‘keto crotch’ on the fad diet, experts have also warned about how the high-fat food intake could be damaging to someone’s health. 

    Recently, fitness guru Jillian Michaels sparked critiques from Al Roker and Andy Cohen after she said the keto diet was a ‘bad plan, for a million reasons.’ 

    Her reasoning being that the low carb/high fat diet ignored that ‘your cells, your macromolecules, are literally made up of protein, fat, carbohydrates, nucleic acids,’  AJC reported.

    She ultimately said it was ‘common sense’ for everyone to avoid the keto diet. 

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    Women Were The Champions Of The Oscars & It’s About Damn Time

    If "The Oscars" and "gender equality" don’t typically go hand-in-hand in your mind, you’re certainly not alone. Year after year, the Academy Awards has snubbed women, whether by honoring only male-driven Best Picture nominees, skipping over women in many behind-the-scenes categories or, more often than not, sadly doing both those things. Yet the 2019 Academy Awards not only recognized female artists, but truly celebrated them, in a way few, if any, Oscar ceremonies have done before.

    For one thing, women of color practically swept the night’s early categories. The first award of the evening, Best Supporting Actress, went to If Beale Street Could Talk star Regina King. Shortly after, Free Solo co-director Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi won alongside Jimmy Chin for Best Documentary. And after that, two women, Kate Biscoe and Patricia Dehaney, won the Makeup and Hairstyling Oscar along with Greg Cannom, for Vice.

    But what happened next was truly groundbreaking. First, Black Panther costume designer Ruth Carter won for her work on the Marvel film, becoming the first Black woman ever to win in that category. Right after her, the Best Production Design Oscar went to Black Panther‘s Jay Hart and Hannah Beachler; the latter became the first Black woman in that category to take home the gold. "I give this strength to all of those who come next to keep going and to never give up and when you think it’s impossible, just remember this piece of advice I got from a very wise woman: I did my best, and my best is good enough," said Beachler in her moving speech.

    Only an hour or so into the Oscars, four women of color had won awards; as critic Kyle Buchanan noted on Twitter during the show, that included two of the only three Black women in Oscar history to have won awards for anything out of the acting categories.

    The incredible progress didn’t stop there. The Best Animated Short Oscar went to Bao, directed by Domee Shi, a Chinese-Canadian filmmaker. In her poignant acceptance speech, Shi advised "all the nerdy girls out there" to tell their stories, saying, "you’re gonna freak people out, but you’ll probably connect with them, too."

    And right after that, another women of color won a directing award — Rayka Zehtabchi, the Iranian-American director of the Netflix documentary short Period. End of Sentence. "I can’t believe a film about menstruation just won an Oscar," said Zehtabchi during her speech, and indeed, that’s about as barrier-breaking as it gets.

    Yet for all the wonderful milestones of Sunday night’s show, the 2019 Oscars wasn’t exactly a gender-balanced event. As reported by the Women’s Media Center, just 25 percent of all non-acting nominations went to women — only a 2 percent increase from 2018’s numbers. Like so many years prior, there were no female Best Director nominees despite numerous worthy contenders, and as noted by the WMC, there were actually fewer women nominated for categories like Original Screenplay and Production Design than in years past.

    As frustrating as those statistics are, though, it doesn’t take away from the amazing achievements of women during the actual ceremony. So often, audiences sit through awards shows only to see women shut out of category after category — especially women of color, who are vastly underrepresented in Hollywood as a whole (a 2019 USC Annenberg report found that just nine of the 1,200 highest grossing films that came out between 2007 and 2018 were made by female directors, for instance). We’re used to seeing men dominate awards shows, and the industry overall. So to see so many talented female artists pick up awards at the 2019 ceremony? It’s pretty damn cool.

    As Amy Poehler said early on in the night, "All women are naturally supporting actresses because women naturally support each other." She may have been joking, but the sentiment was definitely real; as female artists took over the 2019 Oscars, from Carter to Shi to Olivia Coleman to Lady Gaga, women everywhere thrillingly celebrated their successes alongside them.

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    How Women In The Film Industry Are Advocating For Equal Pay

    This article includes paid advertising content from Visa.

    Awards season sure does make it seem like the film industry is all about glitzy trophies, glamorous outfits, and the fight to claim your best-in-class bragging rights, but the lead-up to these massive productions is full of major behind-the-scenes wins that may never make it to your TV screen — like the daily actions of women in the film industry who are giving the fight for equal pay the attention it deserves.

    Don’t get me wrong; I’m sure it feels pretty darn good to be recognized as a winner in a theater full of your iconic colleagues, but without equal pay for the same award-winning work among men and women, it’s impossible not to wonder how much that recognition actually matters.

    That’s why this awards season, Bustle and Visa are continuing the conversation about the gender pay gap — not just in Hollywood, but throughout the larger entertainment industry. Last year, Visa commissioned a survey among millennial women to find out how we think, act, and feel about money today, and there was some good news and some not-so-good news. The survey found that while women today are more driven, career focused, and ambitious about money, our one challenge is how comfortable we feel talking about money. In fact, Visa found that compared to men, women aren’t asking for as many raises or negotiating their pay because it would be too "uncomfortable" to ask.

    Visa is on a mission to close that gap by asking women to share how they’re changing money in their own circles, which is why Bustle reached out to nine women from all corners of the film and entertainment industries to learn how they’re advocating for equal pay for not only themselves, but also for their industry’s next generation. Here’s what they had to say.

    I Make Sure I’m Compensated Equally For My Worth

    "It’s important to know what you bring to the table in comparison to the individuals that lead in your field. In my case, the majority of cinematographers are men. Knowing the value and unique experience and vision I bring to every project is very important. My career is a business, so I have to treat it as such. Running a company, especially when it’s as personal as your skill set, is a learning curve, and you only grow through experiences." —Autumn, cinematographer, Los Angeles

    I Share Personal Stories, And Listen To Others

    “I am part of [a Union] that is currently lobbying to make more commercials unionize. Commercials are the one area that still use a lot of non-union contracts, which can result in problems for actors. I am also a part of acting classes, writers groups, and online communities for actors, hosts, and writers. There’s power in numbers. It’s harder to agree to [a rate] less than what you’re worth if you have people with similar stories supporting you, and everyone has stories.” —Anonymous, actress, Los Angeles

    I Discuss Compensation With My Male Colleagues

    “Our culture has drilled into us that we shouldn’t talk about money, but that aversion only helps the powers that be enact pay inequality across the board. I’ve asked my male colleagues what they were getting paid. I’ve said to bosses, ‘I want to make sure I am making as much as my male colleague.’ I felt comfortable to say that in those particular instances — and I understand that’s not always the case — but I hope the more we talk to each other about pay, the more we pull the veil back on inequality.” —Tracy, comedian and writer, New York City

    I Encourage Other Women To Negotiate

    "Once I realized that women in media, particularly young women of color, were constantly having conversations [about being overworked and underpaid] in hushed tones, I began to understand how crucial it is to be blunt about our compensation. I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve had with male counterparts who were so confident and open about what they made. Of course, it angered me because time and time again it was way more than I’d made, or [more than] their female counterparts made, but it also inspired me to be just as open to benefit myself and others … If we have open and honest conversations about our compensation and how we got there, we can better prepare and enable others to push back against initial offers, learn to negotiate, and push the boundaries further." —Marissa, TV social media producer, New York City

    I Employ Representation That Advocates For Equal Pay

    “I am a member of [a Union] … We rely on our Union to represent us, protect our wages, health, welfare pension, and safety. Our Union is made of costume designers, assistant costume designers, as well as costume illustrators. I encourage [young designers] with representation to empower their agents to advocate for them.” —Arianne, costume designer, Los Angeles

    I Don’t Shy Away From Tough Conversations

    “For most of my career, I’ve experienced a pay disparity between myself and my male colleagues. My day rate has been on average $100 to $200 less than my male colleagues. Two years ago, our market formed a union and that has made all the difference — but it wasn’t easy. It starts with a conversation. You have to be bold enough to have that conversation and advocate for change.” —Mika, freelance camera operator, Indianapolis

    I Joined A Union

    “I am in a union that has negotiated agreements collectively with employers, in our case often studios, to set forth the minimum terms or conditions under which covered employees work. This includes a minimum scale rate for different positions in the costume department. In addition, I often discuss rates with colleagues in my department — either my own, or those that have been disclosed to me — in order to shed some transparency on these topics that are often considered too taboo to talk about.” —Staci, costume designer, New York City

    I Hire And Pay Women, Especially Women Of Color

    "I advocate personally for equal pay by hiring women, and especially women of color who suffer from intersectional discrimination, and I pay them the same rates as their counterparts. White women make about 77 percent of what white males make, while black women make about 61 percent of what white men make. I also do my best to educate people about these facts so that all people who fight for gender parity are held responsible for fighting for us all." —Mel, director and producer, Los Angeles

    I Actively Recruit Women

    "As the founder of a creative agency and video production company, I actively recruit women, minorities, and young people to work for us. We really encourage women to apply. Additionally, we try to educate women and our employees about the changing tax laws, and encourage individuals to talk to tax professionals and accountants regularly to make sure they’re making the most of their funds." —Jillian, Founder and CEO of Ezra Productions, Los Angeles

    I Shine A Light On Women’s Voices

    "Because much of the pay gap stems from a lack of opportunity, I chose to produce and direct a film about the challenges women directors face in this industry. Half of the picture features interviews with [prominent women directors] who candidly relate their experiences being undervalued in an industry that perpetually sees women as ‘risky,’ and women’s stories as smaller and niche. In this case, art is advocacy. While the women speak from their hearts about the frustrations they’ve encountered, they also exude confidence, passion and humor — they are just so good at what they do — and it becomes even more clear what a loss it is for all of us, a loss for our culture, that we’ve been deprived of more of their work." —Amy, director/producer, Los Angeles

    This post is sponsored by Visa.

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    Japanese women rebel against Valentine's tradition of giving male colleagues 'obligation chocolate'

    Japanese women are beginning to boycott the tradition of giving male colleagues chocolates on Valentine’s Day due to the financial burden.
    (Getty Images)

    Japanese women are beginning to rebel against the tradition of giving male colleagues chocolates on Valentine’s Day due to the financial strain.

    The tradition, called “giri choco,” which means “obligation chocolate,” is the act of women buying chocolates for their male coworkers.


    Meanwhile, significant others or husbands receive “honmei choco” which means “true feelings chocolate” on Valentine’s Day.

    The women get their day a month later. On White Day, which falls on March 14, men return the favor.


    However, data showed that the tradition was losing popularity. Japan Today reported that 40 percent of workers see the tradition “as a form of power harassment.” Some work places have even banned the tradition altogether.

    “Before the ban, we had to worry about things like how much is appropriate to spend on each chocolate and where we draw the line in who we give the chocolates to, so it’s good that we no longer have this culture of forced giving,” a person who was surveyed told Japan Today.


    The form of gift-giving was seen as a financial burden. A study by a Tokyo department store found that 60 percent of women will buy chocolates for themselves on Valentine’s Day. Meanwhile, 36 percent of women said they would gift their significant other or partner with the sweet treat. The study said 35 percent of women planned to hand out chocolate to their male colleagues.


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    Tell us the truth about the pill

    Tell us the truth about the pill: Demand women who say their lives were blighted, as a new study reveals it has powerful effects on our bodies and minds

    • Caroline Allen explored how the contraceptive pill can impact mental health
    • A recent study found hormonal contraception use tripled the risk of suicide 
    • Triona McBride, 34, recalls an attempt to end her own life due to mood swings
    • She began taking the pill at age 15, without a warning that she risked depression
    • Shaveve Sharpe, 31, developed a blood clot while using the combined pill
    • She also experienced bad depression, anxiety and had a very short-temper
    • Other women told how their mental health was affected using the implant  

    To the outside world, Triona McBride’s life looked perfect. In her early 20s, she was in a stable relationship, with close friends and a job she enjoyed.

    And yet, one summer day, while having lunch at a friend’s house, she found herself sobbing in the bathroom while looking through her hostess’s medication, wondering if there was anything strong enough to end her life.

    Thankfully, Triona came to her senses and returned to the meal.

    ‘That moment had been preceded by three weeks of almost non-stop crying,’ recalls Triona, now 34. ‘I felt desperate. What stopped me hurting myself was the thought that I’d ruin the day for everyone else.’

    The incident functioned as a wake-up call: she finally realised how serious her sudden, devastating mood swings had become. ‘It prompted me to go to a counsellor for the first time,’ she says. ‘But although I went on to see several therapists, none of them ever realised the true cause.’

    It would be a further nine years before Triona discovered that her depression was caused by the contraceptive pill.

    Caroline Allen explored how the contraceptive pill can be harmful to women’s mental health, Shaveve Sharpe, 31, (pictured) from London experienced depression and anxiety

    While many millions of women take the Pill without problems, a significant minority are reporting a devastating impact on their emotional well-being.

    Depression is listed as a side-effect in the small print warnings leaflet included in every packet, along with symptoms such as blood clotting, weight gain, pain and decreased libido — although experts say doctors are failing to make women aware of the risks.

    Some believe medics are worried about a spike in unwanted pregnancies if women’s trust in the Pill is shaken.

    Triona first took the Pill aged 15 —with her parents’ consent — because she was experiencing severe period pain, and this can be alleviated by going on the Pill.

    Within two months, she says she went from being ‘bubbly and sparkly’ to feeling she ‘couldn’t put one foot in front of the other’.

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    At the time, it was all too easy for her doctors to dismiss this as typical teenage drama. A few years later, when she again sought help, another GP told her it was normal to have ‘dark moods’ from time to time.

    Triona had been put on a medication that seriously disrupted the function of her hormones, which play a vital role in the regulation of emotion. Yet little is known about the impact this can have on a young woman — and startlingly little research has been done on it.

    This week, one German study found that hormonal contraception can reduce a woman’s ability to identify emotions in other people, which researchers believe could lead to misunderstandings and arguments. The study’s lead author, Alexander Lischke, said: ‘More than 100 million women use oral contraceptives, but remarkably little is known about their effects on cognition, emotion and behaviour.’

    For Triona, relief came only when she herself spotted a pattern.

    Emmie Harrison, 25, (pictured) from London began taking the contraceptive pill at age 14, she suffered severe mood swings and anxiety

    The contraceptive pill contains artificial versions of female hormones that override the monthly reproductive cycle. Traditionally, women have been advised to take it every day for three weeks, followed by a week’s break.

    Triona found that she felt ‘normal’ during that week’s break, but when she started taking the pills again, the darkness would descend.

    Without consulting a doctor, she simply stopped taking the Pill and used condoms as contraception instead. Within a couple of weeks her suicidal thoughts had vanished, and she felt happier than she had since she was a young teenager.

    ‘No doctor or counsellor ever referred to the Pill causing these horrible feelings,’ she says. ‘I was so frustrated when I realised it was the Pill making me feel this way.

    ‘I just wish I had been told about the link to depression.’

    Can the contraceptive pill cause death? 

    There was an average of more than ten deaths a year with suspected links to the Pill between 1963 and July 2017, according to the UK’s health regulator

    Psychotherapist Christine Elvin says Triona’s story is sadly familiar. Indeed, each time she sees a new female client with anxiety or depression, her first question is: ‘Are you on the Pill?’

    Christine says: ‘These aren’t isolated incidents; it’s happening all the time. I’m starting to see doctors taking more notice of the psychological effects of the Pill, but a lot more needs to be done.’ If Christine suspects a patient’s depression is linked to the Pill, she recommends they ask their GP if they can switch to a different brand.

    Alleviating these women’s depression, she says, is often as simple as testing out a few different formulations of the Pill to find one that agrees with them.

    ‘The majority of my clients’ mental states change once they’re prescribed a new Pill,’ she says.

    Although there are dozens of different brands of the Pill, most contain a mix of two synthetic hormones: oestrogen and progestogen. The ‘combined pill’ gives a dose of both of these; the ‘mini-pill’ has only progestogen.

    Triona McBride, 34, (pictured) contemplated taking her own life due to depression linked to taking the contraceptive pill 

    A 2016 study at the University of Copenhagen of more than a million women found a clear link between hormonal contraception and subsequent diagnoses of depression. Those using the combined pill were 23 per cent more likely to be diagnosed with depression and those on the mini-pill 34 per cent more likely.

    Teenagers had an 80 per cent increased risk of depression on the combined pill, and this risk was even higher with the mini-pill. Other forms of hormonal contraception were even worse.

    Incredibly, given how many lives were potentially affected, the statistics seemed to slip under the radar.

    Another study by the same researchers in 2018 found that hormonal contraception use tripled the risk of suicide. The study looked at more than 475,000 women with no pre-existing psychiatric problems over eight years. Again, teenagers were particularly affected.

    Unfortunately, there seems to be no one-size-fits-all answer to which pills will cause side-effects in which women. Everyone’s hormonal balance is different, so it often comes down to trial and error.

    That’s something I know first-hand. I was on the Microgynon pill when anxiety and low moods took hold. I spent my 19th birthday in tears. I was in my first year of university and having the best time of my life — so why did I feel so low?

    I was lucky to have a GP who realised what was going on and switched me to a pill called Yasmin, and later another called Cilest. There’s more oestrogen in Cilest, which had a positive impact on me.

    Shaveve Sharpe, 31, (pictured) attributed her mood swings to becoming a new mother, however when she was rushed to hospital for severe breathlessness it was revealed that she had a blood clot in her lung caused by the synthetic oestrogen in her contraceptive pill

    Back then, the notion that the Pill could trigger depression or anxiety was largely a hunch based on my own experiences. It wasn’t until I started researching the link as a journalist that I realised just how many people suffered similar issues.

    Many women who take the Pill are mystified by the conflicting advice, with ardent discussions online about which brands cause what side-effects. Some feel that GPs don’t care about finding the best option for each patient, preferring to hand out the most common or affordable forms of contraception.

    The news last month that the NHS has changed its longstanding guidance about taking a week’s break from the Pill each month only emphasises the lack of transparency in regard to female contraception.

    The Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare, which sets NHS standards, said there was no health benefit to the break, which can result in women experiencing cramps, muscle aches and mood swings. (It had apparently been introduced to make the Pill seem more natural — by allowing for monthly bleeding — and to try to convince the Roman Catholic Church that the Pill was acceptable.)

    In fact, the bleeding that women experience while taking the Pill isn’t a real menstrual period at all, but simply a reaction to the drop in synthetic hormones when they stop taking their daily dose.

    NHS guidelines state that most mood swings caused by the Pill will improve over time or stop altogether within months; only then is switching to a new pill recommended. This is also the advice many GPs offer when patients complain about mood swings.

    But for Shaveve Sharpe, 31, who works in distribution in London, the ill-effects were long-lasting.

    She used the combined pill before having her son, now aged 13, then went back on to it for a further three years after he was born, but quickly began to feel out of sorts.

    At first, she attributed her experience to the intense emotions of being a new mother.

    Triona McBride, 34, (pictured) attempted to overcome her mood swings with counselling before spotting the link between her depression and taking the pill 

    She says: ‘I was very short-tempered and I used to get in arguments for no reason. I suffered from bad depression, moodiness and anxiety. I found it hard to work out what other people were feeling. I was just not functioning as usual.’

    Miserable, she lost interest in sex and felt withdrawn.

    Again, Shaveve did not make the link between the Pill and her mental health until unforeseen circumstances intervened.

    In 2008, she experienced severe breathlessness and was rushed to hospital, where doctors found a blood clot in her lung. ‘I thought I was going to die. I was terrified,’ she says. ‘I spent a month in hospital while they did tests. Then I was told the clot was caused by the synthetic oestrogen in my contraceptive pill.’

    Blood clots are a rare but extremely serious side-effect of the combined pill.

    When she had recovered, Shaveve was advised to start taking the mini-pill, which contains no oestrogen.

    However, she felt uncomfortable taking any synthetic hormones after her experience, and came off the Pill altogether.

    ‘Two months later, my depression suddenly lifted,’ she recalls. ‘I didn’t feel low any more. ‘I went out more and had time to look after myself. I enjoyed watching my son growing up. And, suddenly, I was having more fun when it came to my sex life.’

    Despite a wealth of anecdotal evidence, not all experts agree that there is a causal relationship between hormonal contraception and mental health problems.

    Last year, researchers in the U.S. reviewed 26 studies on depression and progestogen-only methods of hormonal contraception, and concluded that there was insufficient evidence to prove a link.

    There is, however, ongoing research into alternative methods of contraception. In 2016, an injected male contraceptive was found in tests to be 100 per cent effective. But in a development that may seem ironic in light of recent headlines about women and the Pill, all research was halted after men reported side-effects of depression, muscle pain, acne and increased libido.

    Emmie Harrison, 25, (pictured) had worse mood swings after having the implant fitted when she decided to stop taking the Pill 

    In recent years, the NHS has encouraged the use of ‘long-acting reversible contraceptives’ — forms that don’t require a woman to remember to take a pill every day.

    For example, the coil is a device inserted into the womb that comes in two versions — one with progestogen and the other with no hormonal component; the contraceptive implant is a matchstick-sized device placed in the upper arm that works by slowly releasing progestogen; and the contraceptive injection provides three months’ worth of hormonal contraceptive in one treatment.

    According to the NHS, in 2017, 39 per cent of women accessing contraception through its sexual health clinics opted for one of these longer-lasting forms.

    But again, finding the right method for you seems to be a case of trial and error.

    Emmie Harrison, 25, a writer from East London, started taking the Pill aged 14. After suffering severe mood swings and anxiety, she decided to have the implant fitted aged 19.

    ‘Things got even worse after that,’ she says. ‘My mood swings were horrific — and I was on my period for a solid three months.

    ‘My sex drive was next to non-existent because I felt uncomfortable with my body and unhappy with the person I was becoming.

    ‘I stopped caring about other people’s concerns because I was so confused and upset by what was happening to me.

    ‘At no contraception appointment I attended was I told of mental health risks by my GP. And what 14-year-old reads the label word for word?

    ‘Yes, I’d been told that I might get fat or spotty from taking the Pill, but never that I’d cry in the middle of a lesson, feel sad for no reason or go through extreme mood swings.’

    Six years ago, Emmie had the implant removed and instead got the Mirena coil fitted — a brand with low doses of progestogen.

    She says: ‘It has been a lifesaver. I’ve used it for six years now. I don’t get a period, and while I get bad cramps once a month, it’s much better than anything I tried before.’

    Since I began writing about the Pill, hundreds of women have contacted me to share their bad experiences.

    I hope that by encouraging this conversation, more women will feel better equipped to ask their GP for help finding a solution that works for them.

    In the meantime, far more research is needed into the link between hormonal contraception and mental health — not to mention more support.

    Expecting women to find a solution by trial and error simply isn’t good enough.

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    Women Are Finally Dominating The Grammys

    Female artists dominate nominations in the “big four” categories at the 61st Grammy Awards this year, signaling a welcome turnaround after last year, when the music industry’s biggest award show faced criticism for nominating very few women.

    In 2018, Recording Academy president Neil Portnow offered a tone-deaf statement explaining why so few female stars were acknowledged. “Women who have the creativity in their hearts and souls,” he said, “who want to be musicians, who want to be engineers, producers, and want to be part of the industry on the executive level” should “step up because I think they would be welcome.”

    Ah, yes, because women haven’t been breaking their backs to create meaningful music, write unique songs, record and produce their own work, and upload YouTube covers for… years. See, it’s not that women aren’t doing the work — it’s that no matter how hard they try, the music industry operates against them and prioritizes male artists.

    This year, however, it looks like the Recording Academy made an effort to redeem itself. Women fared much better in the top categories, including Record of the Year, Song of the Year, Album of the Year, and Best New Artist. There were no female nominees for Record of the Year in 2018, but this year, Cardi B, Brandi Carlisle, Lady Gaga, SZA, and Maren Morris joined the race.

    For Album of the Year, Cardi B’s Invasion of Privacy, Brandi Carlisle’s By The Way I Forgive You, H.E.R’s self-titled album, Janelle Monáe’s Dirty Computer, and Kacey Musgrave’s Golden Hour all received nods.

    For Song of the Year, five women are in contention: SZA for “All the Stars,” Ella Mai for “Boo’d Up,” Brandi Carlisle for “The Joke,” Sarah Aarons for Maren Morris, Zedd, and Grey’s “The Middle,” Lady Gaga for “Shallow,” and Teddy Geiger (who recently came out as a trans woman) for Shawn Mendes’ “In My Blood.” 

    The odds are even better for women in the Best New Artist category. Six out of the eight nominees are women: Chloe x Halle, H.E.R., Dua Lipa, Margo Price, Bebe Rexha, and Jorja Smith. Last year, Alessia Cara won the award, but she was also the only woman to receive a solo trophy in the live telecast. 

    Janelle Monae — one of the most vocal critics of the Recording Academy — expressed how grateful she is that women’s talents are finally being recognized.

    “This is going to be a special Grammys,” she said. “As much as it is about me, it’s not just about me. Just knowing that so many women are nominated this year, looking back from last year to this year when I was on the stage at the Grammys, you could see that I was frustrated about the opportunities and about our visibility as women. Yes, we have so much more work to do, but this is a moment to be celebrated. This is a moment for women to love on each other and let each other know.”

    But the 2019 Grammys isn’t totally free of controversy. Earlier this week, Ariana Grande called out show producer Ken Ehrlich for not giving her creative freedom over her scheduled performance. As a result, Grande decided to boycott the show altogether. 

    Other big names like Kendrick Lamar, Drake, and Taylor Swift will also forgo this year’s show.

    Women will also dominate the event with a handful of performances. Lady Gaga is tapped to perform as well as Diana Ross, H.E.R., Brandi Carlile, Kacey Musgraves, Janelle Monae, Cardi B, Miley Cyrus, Camila Cabello, Dua Lipa, St. Vincent, Yolanda Adams, Fantasia, Andra Day, and Chloe x Halle.

    It’s unclear if this year’s progress is the Recording Academy’s bid to save face in response to last year, but it’s a step toward prioritizing diversity and representation.

    The 2018 event was emblematic of the industry’s bad habit of putting men on a pedestal, and it’s about time we reverse that.

    Female artists are here, and they’ll continue to push the envelope. It’s the industry’s turn to “step up” and recognize their efforts.

    The 61st Grammy Awards took place Sunday, February 10 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. Singer Alicia Keys hosted the event. Camila Cabello, Janelle Monae, and Shawn Mendes and Miley Cyrus, and other major artists performed.

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