antidepressantThoughts of suicide, sexual difficulties and emotional numbness as a result of antidepressants may be more widespread than previously thought, research has found.

In a survey of 1,829 people in New Zealand who had been prescribed anti-depressants in the past 5 years, researchers from the University of Liverpool found large numbers of people – more than half in some cases – reporting on psychological problems due to their medication. This has led to growing concerns about the scale of the problem of over-prescription of these drugs.

Each person completed an online questionnaire that asked about 20 adverse effects. The survey factored in people’s levels of depression and asked them to report on how they had felt while taking the medication.

More than half of people aged 18 to 25 in the study reported suicidal feelings and in the total sample there were large percentages of people suffering from ‘sexual difficulties’ (62%) and ‘feeling emotionally numb’ (60%).

Further reading: Platform 51 calls for review of women’s antidepressant use

Other effects included: ‘feeling not like myself’ (52% of respondents), ‘reduction in positive feelings’ (42%), ‘caring less about others’ (39%) and ‘withdrawal effects’ (55%). But 82% reported that the drugs had helped alleviate their depression.

The full report is published in the journal Psychiatry Research.

Psychologist and lead researcher, Professor John Read from the University’s Institute of Psychology, Health and Society, said: “The medicalisation of sadness and distress has reached bizarre levels. One in 10 people in some countries are now prescribed antidepressants each year.

“While the biological side-effects of antidepressants, such as weight gain and nausea, are well documented, the psychological and interpersonal effects have been largely ignored or denied. They appear to be alarmingly common.

“Effects such as feeling emotionally numb and caring less about other people are of major concern. Our study also found that people are not being told about this when prescribed the drugs.
“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.”