Antidepressant use in young people has serious side effects, including permanent sexual dysfunction such as total genital numbness, zero libido and no response to sexual stimuli.

Vanguard Newspaper reports that a common type of antidepressant called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), has been known to wipe out sex drive by causing a condition known as PSSD (post-SSRI sexual dysfunction). Other antidepressants known as SNRIs (serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors) and some of the older antidepressants known as tricyclics, can also cause similar problems.

The SSRIs are a type of antidepressants known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, but the side-effect can also be the result of taking other drugs that act on the brain chemical serotonin.

One of the problems faced by those with PSSD is that because many have taken antidepressants for mental disorders such as anxiety and depression, their lack of libido is often misdiagnosed by doctors and psychiatrists as a relapse of depressive feelings. Yet PSSD can also affect those who have taken antidepressants for more obviously physical conditions.

Sexual side effects of antidepressants are well-documented, but recent research suggests these problems may persist even after stopping the medication, potentially causing permanent sexual dysfunction.

In 2019, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) mandated warnings about this risk on SSRI and SNRI antidepressants. Regulators elsewhere are facing similar pressure.

The main symptoms of PSSD include genital numbness, inability to orgasm or pleasureless orgasms, erectile dysfunction, vaginal dryness and reduced sex drive. Those affected also report emotional ‘blunting’ – meaning they can’t feel either positive or negative emotions.

Doctors are desperately trying to find a cure. Joanna Moncrieff, a professor of critical and social psychiatry at University College London, explains: “No one knows exactly why but people’s sexuality is impaired by drugs that interfere with the brain chemical serotonin. This is why antidepressants have been trialled for premature ejaculation and why they are given to sex offenders to reduce their sex drive.”

Moncrieff says further: “There is increased concern about the risk of PSSD in younger people, as the number of prescriptions of antidepressants for teenagers rises. Antidepressants are treated as relatively harmless but they’re not – they change our brain chemistry in ways we don’t fully understand and this is particularly worrying for youngsters going through puberty.”

The consensus is that doctors should be telling patients who are already on antidepressants that there is now research to show they can cause persistent sexual dysfunction and they should be helping people to get off them.

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