Sex and mood disorders

Sexual desire is a delicate thing and although many people don’t like to talk about it, this feeling can be strongly affected by illness just as many other areas of our life and health are.

Over the next couple of weeks, I will discuss sexual functioning and how it is affected by psychiatric symptoms and treatments – beginning today with sexual desire as it is affected by mood disorders.

As you may have guessed, our sexuality is strongly linked to our mood. When an individual suffers from a mood disorder such as depression or bipolar disorder, sexuality is very often affected.

Typically, depressed individuals have less interest in sex than they did before the onset of the depression and they also get less enjoyment from sex.

Not only is sexual interest impaired, but other symptoms such as decreased self confidence and decreased interest in enjoyable activities compound this effect as they can lead to problems such as difficulty achieving and maintaining erections in men and lack of desire and orgasm in women.

Since depressive episodes usually last for months at a time, symptoms such as a loss of interest in sex can lead to relationship difficulties – especially if the depression is not recognized. A partner may believe the depressed individual does not care or that the lack of interest points to underlying relationship problems.

Bipolar disorder can also affect sexual desire. Since mood shifts between depression and mania in bipolar disorder, there are two extremes to consider. During depressive episodes, symptoms will be the same as they are for any depression and impaired sexual interest may be the result.

However, when the bipolar individual is in a manic state, there could be increased interest in sex. During a manic episode, people feel more confident, attractive and vastly more sexual than normal. They also have less inhibitions and poor judgment. As a result, individuals with this disorder may engage in extra-marital affairs or engage in sexual behaviour that they would not normally consider.

Manic individuals also tend to have no insight into their behaviour and do not recognize that they are in an abnormal state of mind. Sometimes during a manic episode, an individual will leave his or her partner for someone else and will usually regret this decision when the “high” is inevitably followed by a depression.

Obviously, all of this can be very hard to move past if there is a marriage or significant relationship involved and can be devastating for everyone involved.

Changes in sexual desire or behaviour can be an important sign of changing mood and are a good reason to consult a health care provider. Other psychiatric conditions such as anxiety disorders, post traumatic stress disorder and schizophrenia can also affect sexual function and can be diagnosed by your doctor.

If you notice these symptoms in yourself or your partner, consider speaking with someone about it. Although you may feel uncomfortable at first, this is an important symptom and may help your doctor to make a diagnosis and begin the road to treating the underlying condition.

The sooner you get help, the sooner you will return to normal functioning.


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