Every year, millions of adolescents are treated for anxiety or depression. As many as 11 percent of teenagers in the United States may suffer from depression, with some form of anxiety disorder affecting about 8 percent—many teens have both. Though far too many do not receive treatment, those who do get help may receive therapy, medication, or a combination of the two.
For those who end up with a prescription, they will likely start with a medication known as a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), which increases the circulation of a chemical in the brain that boosts a patient’s mood. Medications in this category include a number of well-known drugs, including Prozac, Paxil and Zoloft, among others. While these medications may deliver significant benefits to many patients, they are not without side effects.
According to a new paper in the journal Pediatrics, not enough doctors are talking to their teenage patients about the effect these medications can have on their sex lives. While studies in adults have shown that half or more of patients who take SSRIs have some form of sexual side effect (loss of libido, difficulty with arousal, or loss of duration or intensity of orgasm), the authors of this new article note that clinical trials in adolescents routinely fail to investigate these side effects in teenagers who take them. Furthermore, the tools that medical providers and researchers use to assess side effects in adolescents fail to include items that ask about effects on sexuality.