Updated: Oct 2, 2022
Infertility can be physically taxing. With countless appointments and seemingly endless poking and prodding, the physical effects are apparent. However, the emotional impact of infertility is much less discussed and frequently overlooked. We will be discussing how infertility impacts mental health and reviewing some ways that we can improve mental health during this journey.
The Silence of Infertility:
Infertility affects 1 in 8 couples. However, women who experience issues with fertility or pregnancy loss often do not share their stories. Despite the push for growing awareness, many couples do not share these experiences with even family or close friends. It is not uncommon for women to have heartbreaking stories of the child that they lost in silence, with pressure to quickly return to “life as usual”. For couples undergoing infertility treatment, things as simple as taking time off work for treatment become a challenge. How do I request time off without disclosing the reason? This silence breeds a culture of shame and negative feelings.
Psychological Impact of Infertility:
For many couples struggling to conceive, the quest to have a child becomes all consuming. Studies have found that the unfulfilled desire to have a child can be associated with feelings such as depression, anxiety, anger, sexual dysfunction and social isolation. In general, in infertile couples, women tend to exhibit higher levels of distress than their male partners. Couples experiencing infertility may experience a loss of identity and feelings of inadequacy or incompetence.
Infertility, Anxiety and Depression:
Multiple studies have found a greater incidence of depression in patients with infertility versus fertile controls. Depending on the study, the incidence of major depression in infertile couples ranges from 15 to 54%. There are also higher levels of anxiety, with 8 to 28% of infertile couples experiencing anxiety.
IVF and Mental Health:
Studies have found that reproductive treatment itself can also contribute to mental health issues. Some researchers suggest that psychological factors play a role in couples who drop out during treatment. Other studies have found that women who present for treatment after failed IVF cycles have increased levels of depression and anxiety.
How Does Infertility Impact Relationships?
The physical and financial strain of infertility can take a toll on a relationship. Although it is discussed less often, infertility can also impact a couple’s sex life. Couples can lose pleasure from sexual activity and may avoid sexual activity that isn’t for baby making. Some couples report that sexual activity becomes clinical as opposed to emotional or intimate.
Treating Mental Health:
There is evidence supporting psychotherapy during infertility. Some studies support group therapy as a beneficial intervention in terms of both mental health and pregnancy rates. Currently, there is growing support for the role that complementary therapy has on health and wellness. Many couples have found great benefit in yoga and meditation.
Couples who are experiencing infertility have a greater risk of psychological issues, including depression and anxiety. Social and cultural constraints sometimes limit discussions regarding infertility and pregnancy loss, thus further contributing to feelings of social isolation. It is important for couples to discuss their concerns with their provider. Treatment such as psychotherapy has been demonstrated to be beneficial. Additionally, alternative therapies, such as yoga and meditation, may contribute to overall health during the journey to parenthood.
How has infertility or pregnancy loss affected your mental health? What have you done to improve mental health? We would love to hear from you. Please share in the comments below.