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The long-term use of antidepressants has been under the spotlight recently. The BBC reports that about two million people in England have been taking antidepressants for five years or more, despite the fact that there is little evidence to suggest that they remain effective over the longer term.  

It is estimated that eight million people overall use antidepressants in the UK to control the symptoms of anxiety, depression, or other mental health conditions. These figures show a sharp increase of over one million compared with five years ago.  

The rise in the use of antidepressants continues, despite the fact that the NHS recommends talking therapies or exercise and other lifestyle changes as the first line of defence against mental health problems. There is also some debate as to just how effective the medication can be, as for some people it seems to make little or no difference. 

Most antidepressants prescribed by the NHS are known as Selective Serotonin Re-Uptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) because they are deemed to have less severe side effects than older types of medication. However, it is widely reported that SSRIs can seriously impact on sexual function.  

Until recently, doctors claimed that side effects such as loss of libido and erectile dysfunction (ED) were temporary, and would subside as soon as the patient stopped taking the medication. However, there is now evidence that these side effects can continue even when the course of treatment has ended. 

The sexual side effects of SSRIs have been reported in both genders. So far, researchers are not sure why some people react to the treatment in this way, although one theory is that serotonin plays a role in regulating sex hormones and sexual response.  

For men who take antidepressants and also experience ED or loss of libido, the solution can be complex. This is because depression is one of the known causes of ED in the first place. Depression may also have developed as a result of ED because it triggered a loss of self-esteem or perhaps contributed to the break up of a relationship. 

If a patient is then prescribed antidepressants, the side effects of the medication may mask any recovery from the initial cause of ED. Furthermore, after a certain period of time, coming off antidepressants can trigger side effects including low mood and anxiety. This will further work against a full recovery and make it difficult to identify the root cause of the problem.  

Certain types of antidepressants may also prevent some treatments for ED from working effectively.  However, there is a new product on the market that can be applied directly to the penis and has very few side effects because it does not need to be processed through the body. It can be bought online without a prescription.

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