If you’re experiencing depression and erectile dysfunction, you might wonder whether the two are connected.

Depression and erectile dysfunction are enough to deal with on their own. And if you experience both, it can feel like a vicious circle as the two conditions contribute to each other.

Both depression and erectile dysfunction conditions are treatable. You can treat them simultaneously and sometimes with the same strategies.

What is depression?

Most people experience mood changes or lack of motivation sometimes. But if you’re experiencing persistent or recurring irritability or sadness for at least 2 weeks, you might have major depressive disorder (MDD) or another depressive disorder.

Other symptoms of depression include:

  • loss of interest or enjoyment from previously preferred activities
  • fatigue
  • sleep changes
  • appetite changes or weight changes
  • feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • reduced ability to focus or concentrate
  • thoughts of suicide or death
  • changes in speech or activity level

Sometimes, medical conditions such as a thyroid issue or vitamin deficiency can mimic the signs of MDD, so it’s important to get an accurate diagnosis. A doctor can evaluate your symptoms with blood work and other medical tests.

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) identifies four factors that may contribute to depression:

  • genetics: family history
  • biochemistry: such as brain chemical differences
  • personality: for example, pessimism or a tendency to be easily overwhelmed
  • environment: such as regular exposure to violence, poverty, or neglect

What is erectile dysfunction?

If you cannot achieve or maintain an erection that is firm enough for sexual intercourse, this is called erectile dysfunction (ED). Also known as impotence, ED is common and affects about 30 million people in the United States.

Factors that increase the chance of ED include:

  • advanced age
  • specific medical conditions
  • some medications
  • mental health issues such as anxiety or depression
  • increased body weight
  • smoking
  • substance use
  • injury

Many people experience ED only occasionally. If the condition occurs regularly, seeing a doctor could help.

ED can be primary or secondary. Most occurrences are secondary, which is a loss of previously typical function.

If a person has never achieved an erection, this is considered primary ED. Causes of primary ED can be:

  • neurological
  • related to blood vessels
  • psychological

Research, including a 2018 systematic review and meta-analysis, shows a link between ED and depression.

Psychological states can cause physical reactions. Persistent headaches and digestive issues are only two examples of the many physical changes that can occur because of mental health issues such as stress, anxiety, and depression.

Depression is a brain chemical imbalance that affects many things, including a person’s ability to achieve and maintain an erection. Conversely, ED can contribute to a person’s chance of developing depression.

A small-scale 2015 review of case records revealed that depression and erectile dysfunction occurred together in 12.5% of men attending a clinic for sexual dysfunction. Depression proceeded the ED in most of the cases.

Sometimes, the medication that doctors prescribe to treat depression can cause ED. A 2016 review reports that selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) can contribute to ED because they impact both neurotransmitters and hormones.

Both MDD and ED are treatable with medication, therapy, and lifestyle changes.


MDD responds well to treatment. The APA estimates that people with depression eventually respond to treatment 80% to 90% of the time.

A correct diagnosis is vital to rule out medical conditions that can mimic the symptoms of depression. Thyroid issues and vitamin deficiencies are two such examples.

Medication and talk therapy are the two primary MDD treatments, which often work well together. Medication can improve your mood, as well as your appetite, sleep, and concentration. It can give you the energy and motivation to participate in therapy, which helps you improve your thinking patterns.

Lifestyle interventions such as better nutrition, sleep, and regular exercise can also help to ease MDD. One of the issues with depression, though, is the lack of energy needed to make these changes. Therefore, it’s often helpful to start with therapy and medication.

Erectile dysfunction

Addressing the underlying cause is often the first step in treating erectile dysfunction. This usually means lifestyle interventions that improve overall health, such as:

  • quitting smoking
  • exercising regularly
  • maintaining a healthy body weight
  • controlling blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels
  • prioritizing a sleep schedule

Proper nutrition and specific foods can help improve your health and prevent ED from occurring. A 2020 study involving 21,469 men linked a reduced chance of developing ED with a diet consisting of:

  • vegetables
  • fruit
  • nuts
  • legumes
  • fish or other sources of long-chain fats
  • no red or processed meat

If lifestyle improvements don’t work to relieve ED, there are other treatments. Medication for ED, such as phosphodiesterase-5 inhibitors (PDE-5i), can improve blood flow to the penis, while talk therapy can address the psychological factors that may contribute to ED.

A 2021 review of 13 articles that included a total of 597 men demonstrated that PDE-5i medication plus therapy helped more than either treatment alone.

It can be uncomfortable to talk with your doctor about ED. Still, it can be important to do so because ED could be a sign of an underlying health issue that needs treatment, such as:

A visit to a doctor can do more than lead to ED treatment. It can be the catalyst for changes that lead to better health overall.

MDD and ED may seem overwhelming to live with, but they’re treatable. Treatment approaches such as lifestyle changes and therapy can help both issues simultaneously.

Although MDD can deplete your motivation and talking about ED can be uncomfortable, a visit with your doctor is worth the effort. It’s your first step on the road to wellness.

The American Psychological Association (APA) has psychologist and psychiatrist locators if you’re interested in trying therapy. You can also use Psych Central’s How to Find Mental Health Support resource.

Support groups can connect you with others who’ve experienced similar issues and identify with your perspective.