Sexuality through illness

This October 10 ends Mental Illness Awareness Week. However, the need for help and the feeling of distress cannot be limited to words, prevention and intervention actions of a single week, as important as it is. Beyond words, action must be taken, all year round. Because people with mental health issues struggle on a daily basis and, with the right services and supports, the quality of life can be very satisfying. What about the quality of sex life?

Health and sexuality

According to the Quebec Association of Parents and Friends of the Person with Mental Illness (AQPAMM), good mental health allows people to:

  • Realize their full potential;
  • Face the stresses of life;
  • Work productively;
  • Make meaningful contributions to their communities.

Also according to the AQPAMM, the development of a mental health problem is an unfortunate combination of circumstances that combines biological, psychological and social factors with a favorable context, namely increased stress and reduced coping skills. In this sense, therefore, no one can claim to be completely immune from mental health problems. When a diagnosis is made, the fallout is both significant and overwhelming for many people and their families.

Sexuality is a sphere that can be influenced by the upheavals and movements, which are all in all inevitable, of life. However, people living with mental illness are, for the most part, more likely to be tested by these upheavals. On the one hand because of the disease, but also because of certain drug treatments.

An article published by Lorenzo Soldati, assistant doctor and head of the specialized sexology consultation at Geneva University Hospitals, reveals that more than 70% of men and 50% of women testify to dysfunctional sexuality due to the disease, but also due to antipsychotics. He notes that nearly half of depressed patients present with sexual problems: decreased desire, decreased arousal; sometimes, certain antidepressants worsen these difficulties by making it difficult for some people to reach orgasm (note, some antidepressants can, according to Soldati, allow patients to regain desire).

For people with anxiety, eating, and personality disorders, it is the disease itself (and not the treatment) that is primarily responsible for many sexual difficulties.

Solutions !

Sometimes when suffering and distress are so great, they can take up all the space and cast a shadow (not to say darkness) over all aspects of life. This is when discouragement follows suit and can leave the person in a state of distress. Solutions are available, but it’s not always easy to reach out for help. Sometimes the person and their partner may live for years to get support, often leaving a lasting mark in each other’s lives. Because beyond the sexual dysfunctions related to the sexual response (desire, arousal, orgasm), it is the relationship to oneself and to the other that also suffers the repercussions.

Dare to reach out: to offer help, but also to receive it. Break the silence, don’t be ashamed. It is essential to make resources more accessible.

Source: “I have a psychiatric disorder and my sexuality is affected. What can I do ? », Lorenzo Soldati, March 9, 2019, www.experts-hug.ch/2019/03/09/troubles-psychiatriques-sexualite/.

► Do not hesitate to contact the Order of Psychologists, the Professional Order of Sexologists of Quebec to find a professional.

► Crisis Services Canada: 833-456-4566

► Quebec mental health movement: movementsmq.ca/need-d-aide

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