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Sexual difficulties and emotional effects

Sexual difficulties and emotional effects reported in largest NZ anti-depressant study

Sexual difficulties and feeling emotionally numb are the two most commonly-experienced side effects reported by people taking antidepressants, according to a new study by University of Auckland researchers.

Sexual difficulties and feeling emotionally numb are the two most commonly-experienced side effects reported by people taking antidepressants, according to a new study by University of Auckland researchers.

In an online survey of 1,829 New Zealanders prescribed antidepressants in the past five years – the largest sample ever surveyed – high rates of emotional and interpersonal adverse effects were reported by study participants.

The research, just published in the international journal Psychiatry Research, also found that over two fifths reported gaining weight.

“We know from previous research that weight gain and nausea are reported by people taking antidepressants but what is new in this study is that antidepressants have also been found to have substantial emotional and interpersonal adverse effects,” says Dr Claire Cartwright of the University’s Clinical Psychology Programme in the Department of Psychology.

The study found:

• 62% of people reported experience sexual difficulties
• 60% reported feeling emotionally numb
• 52% reported feeling not like myself
• 42% reported a reduction in positive feelings
• 39% reported caring less about others
• 39% reported feelings of suicidality
• 55% had withdrawal effects

Eight of the 20 adverse effects were reported by more than half the participants.

Study co-author Dr Kerry Gibson said with the rise in use of anti-depressants in recent years, the study findings are a concern.

“One in nine adults and one in six women in New Zealand are prescribed these drugs every year yet our study found potential side-effects are more common than previously thought and those effects can seriously impact on people’s well-being and quality of life.”

While overall 39% of study participants reported feeling suicidal, that figure rose to more than half – 55% - for people aged 18-25.

“Our finding that over a third of respondents reported suicidality ‘as a result of taking the antidepressants’ suggests that earlier studies may have underestimated the problem,” says researcher Professor John Read, formerly of the University of Auckland, now at the Institute of Psychology, Health and Society, University of Liverpool.

Dr Cartwright said the high frequency of reported adverse effects raised the issue of whether people dissatisfied with their medication were more likely to have participated in the survey but an overwhelming majority – 82.8% - of people in the survey reported that they believed the drugs had reduced their depression.

“That’s a higher rate than many studies of anti-depressants so that if this survey had attracted a disproportionate number of people not satisfied with their medication then you would have expected that figure to be much lower.”

The research was funded by the University of Auckland’s Faculty Research Development Fund.


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