Many people are prescribed antidepressant medications for a wide range of ills, such as anxiety disorder, depression, pain management, insomnia, migraine headaches, grief, and many off-label applications.
The popularity of antidepressant use has skyrocketed over the last 10 years.
Research from the American Psychological Association shows that:
- 12.7 percent of the U.S. population over age 12 took antidepressants in the past month,
- There was a 64 percent increase in people using antidepressants between 1999 and 2014,
- There was a 19.1 percent increase in people over the age of 60 who took antidepressants, and
- Women are more than 2 times more likely to take antidepressants than men.
While some people can benefit from antidepressants, they often come with side effects and long-term risks.
Weight gain is a common side effect of antidepressants, as is blurred vision, rash, seizures, edema, diarrhea, nausea, constipation, insomnia dizziness, heart arrhythmia, fainting, and hypertension.
While many of these side effects subside once the medication has been discontinued, some side effects can persist long after the antidepressant has been discontinued. For some people, these side effects become permanent.
Many medical and mental health professionals have been raising awareness about some of the long-lasting side effects. Unfortunately, few are listening, including those who are prescribing them.
One such mental health professional, professor David Healy, has recently raised the concern about post-antidepressant sexual dysfunction.
Writing in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, Professor Healy said problems can begin after only a few doses and leave someone affected for life, or a relatively mild dysfunction can worsen dramatically when the person stops taking the antidepressant.
According to the research's press release:
Called Post-SSRI Sexual Dysfunction (PSSD), the core features of the condition are genital numbing, loss or muting of orgasm and loss of libido. According to Professor Healy many patients are just as concerned by additional features like emotional numbing or derealisation. Both sexes, all ages and every ethnic group can be affected.
Professor Healy, of Bangor University, said: "10% of people of sexually active years in developed countries are on antidepressants chronically. Nearly 20% of the population, therefore, may not be able to make love the way they want. In some deprived areas, the figure may be much higher. Some likely comfort themselves with the thought that once they stop treatment, they will get back to normal, when in fact they may be even less able to function."
In June 2019, in response to a petition lodged by Professor Healy and colleagues in 2018, the European Medicines Agency asked pharmaceutical companies to warn that sexual dysfunction can endure after antidepressant treatment stops.
Professor Healy said: "There is a great need to recognise these treatment-related enduring sexual dysfunctions and pinpoint how they arise and might be treated."
Post-SSRI Sexual Dysfunction (PSSD) isn’t the only problem. Other researchers have found that people who used antidepressants had a 14% higher risk of heart attacks and strokes and a 33% greater risk of death, according to findings in a meta-analysis of 17 studies that was published in 2017 in the journal Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics.
Other research has found that antidepressants significantly increase the risk of GI and Intercranial bleeding.
With the many short- and long-term adverse effects of antidepressant medication use, medical and mental health professionals are urging patients to carefully weigh the pros and cons amid new research on short- and long-term risks.
If you are having difficulty with anxiety, worry, depression, or sleep problems, you might want to connect with one of our recommended therapists. Therapy is the most effective way to overcome these types of problems.
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1. Winerman, Lea. "By the numbers: Antidepressant use on the rise." American Psychological Association, Nov 2017, https://www.apa.org/monitor/2017/11/numbers
2. Healy, David. "Antidepressants and sexual dysfunction: a history." Sage Journals, 23 Jan 2020,
3. Marta M. Maslej, et al. "The Mortality and Myocardial Effects of Antidepressants Are Moderated by Preexisting Cardiovascular Disease: A Meta-Analysis." Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, 2017.
4. Wei Cheng Yuet et al, "Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor Use and Risk of Gastrointestinal and Intracranial Bleeding." The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association (2019).