The word ‘infertility,’ often brings to mind doctor’s appointments, medications, ovulation cycles, and financial burden. While it is often not discussed, the mental toll of dealing with infertility can be equally as great, and infertility depression is just one way that can present.
According to the Mental Health Professional Group of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine1, the psychological impact of infertility can invoke significant feelings of loss in people experiencing it. Between the organization and the cost of medical treatments, physiological effects of procedures, and uncertainties about results, the mental health burden can be high. MGH Center for Women’s Health – Harvard Medical School2 cites, “A number of studies have found that the incidence of depression in infertile couples presenting for infertility treatment is significantly higher than in fertile controls, with prevalence estimates of major depression in the range of 15%-54%3.
Anxiety has also been shown to be significantly higher in infertile couples when compared to the general population, with 8%-28% of infertile couples reporting clinically significant anxiety4.”
The Mental Health Professional Group suggests speaking with a fertility counselor or mental health professional if you’ve faced any of the following symptoms for a prolonged period of time:
- loss of interest in usual activities
- infertility depression that doesn’t lift
- strained interpersonal relationships (with partner, family, friends and/or colleagues)
- difficulty thinking of anything other than your infertility
- high levels of anxiety
- diminished ability to accomplish tasks
- difficulty with concentration
- change in your sleep patterns (difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, early morning awakening, sleeping more than usual for you)
- change in your appetite or weight (increase or decrease)
- increased use of drugs or alcohol
- thoughts about death or suicide
- social isolation
- persistent feelings of pessimism, guilt, or worthlessness
- persistent feelings of bitterness or anger
The primary goal of a fertility counselor is to help individuals and couples navigate and cope with the physical and mental changes that are associated with infertility. This can include managing stress, navigating partner responses (particularly if you and your partner have different outlooks and approaches to infertility), feelings of resentment about procedures and societal expectations, alternative family planning, and more. A counselor is trained to aid clients in honing existing coping mechanisms, discovering new strategies, implementing new methods, and maintaining healthy mental states while on the infertility journey. Keep in mind that many practitioners are able to practice telehealth, and counseling may be available over the phone.
Finding a mental health professional comes with a few recommendations. The Mental Health Professional Group recommends that a practitioner should:
- Have a graduate degree in a mental health profession
- a license to practice and/or state registration
- clinical training in the psychological aspects of infertility
- experience in the medical and psychological aspects of reproductive medicine
Outside of finding a fertility counselor, reproductivefacts.org 5 has provided a list of coping mechanisms to use, for any persons or couples experiencing the challenges infertility brings. “Get accurate and current information to reduce anxiety. Utilize reliable sources such as the CDC, WHO and ASRM to ensure fact-based, scientific information.
- Limit your use of social media and other sources of news. Set a certain time of day for gathering news. Choose a time when you aren’t likely to be triggered. Stop using tech devices an hour or more before bedtime…turn them off.
- Utilize relaxation or mindfulness apps to reduce anxiety and tension and improve sleep. Focus on the present moment.
- Engage in pleasurable activities and hobbies. What do you do for fun? Taking even ½ hour per day to focus on things other than the pandemic and your fertility journey will help.
- Pay attention to the messages you give yourself. Positive self-talk can be powerful. Saying things like “This isn’t the situation I expected but it doesn’t mean it won’t work out eventually” can be helpful.
- Stay in touch with others in your support network, either socially distanced or virtually. Staying connected with others reduces the sense of isolation. If you are experiencing Zoom fatigue, consider connecting on the weekend or after you’ve given yourself a break.
- Join RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association (www.resolve.org). RESOLVE has an online support community, local support groups (now meeting virtually), webinars and other content to help you connect, get support, and stay informed.”
Sadly, nearly 1 in 8 couples experience infertility, according to the CDC. This breaks down to about 6% of married women ages 15 to 44 who have been trying to get pregnant for over a year. Men are affected as well with about one-third of infertility cases are caused by male reproductive issues. The remaining two thirds are split between female reproductive issues, and by both male and female reproductive issues or by unknown factors.6
- Mental Health Professional Group of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine
- MGH Center for Women’s Health – Harvard Medical School
- Domar 1992; Demyttenaere 1998; Parikh 2000; Lukse 1999; Chen 2004
- Anderson 2003; Chen 2004; Parikh 2000
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