Infertility and Mental Health: What You Need to Know About the Psychological Impact

Having children is something that most women, and even many men, dream of. When it’s time for that dream to come true, not all find that the process of having children comes with ease. Infertility affects more people than most think. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that out of 100 couples, anywhere from 12-13 will experience difficulty conceiving. Thanks to new technology that is ever growing, there are options for those who experience this issue. For some, simple advice from a consultation fixes the problem, but for others more drastic measures must take place. Two of the most common are IUI (intrauterine insemination) and IVF (in-vitro fertilization). Although these treatments are an incredible resource for those looking to become parents, the mental health impact of infertility and these treatments is less talked about.

Medication:

One of the more common treatments for infertility comes from medications that work toward many goals. These medications aim to increase sperm count, improve ovulation, stabilize hormones, and more. As with any medication, these have side effects that change the body and can ultimately change a person’s mental health. In a report of research done by Harvard Medical School, certain drugs such as Clomid and Serophene can lead to major mental changes. Women have shown to experience anxiety, sleep problems, mood and swings and irritability when on these medications. Other medications used have shown to cause depression, mania, and difficulty thinking.

Economic Struggle:

Undergoing fertility treatments in the United States is far from inexpensive. More basic processes such as consultation, blood tests, sperm tests and medications aren’t entirely bank breaking in most cases. These processes are more likely to be covered by insurance compared to larger processes. The larger treatments such as IVF and IUI come at a much higher price.  The Advanced Fertility Center of Chicago claims that the typical price for a cycle of IVF falls between $11,000 and $12,000 dollars. These practices are much less likely to be covered by insurance (only 15 states mandate coverage according to the Harvard report)  and can create serious financial strain on those who are paying out of pocket. Financial strain has proven to be a major cause of stress which can grow into bigger mental health issues

Treatment Failure and Success:


Image from https://www.sart.org/globalassets/__sart/infographics/higher-success-rates.png

With the new advancements of treatment, the success rate for those undergoing fertility treatments is quite high. The figure above details just how likely it is for a couple to take home a baby after experiencing IVF. Despite the high success rates though, factors play into how successful a couple will truly be. The higher the age of the couple the less likely for success, with the decline starting after the mid 30’s. Success rates also differ with the amount of embryos available for transfer and how many are transferred at once. Even for those who fit the ideal category, success may not happen immediately or at all. The failure of treatment may stir up a new cycle of grief and sadness for the couple experiencing it. Harvard Medical believes the negative effects of failure is stronger in the U.S due to the cultural belief of hard work leading to success. Prolonged failure may increase these feelings and lead to increased risk of mental health disorders.

Martial Struggles:

Through the process of fertility treatment, couples may experience issues they previously had not. The stress of the above mentioned parts of fertility treatment may lead to stress within the marriage. In a study done by Samuel H. Nyarko & Hubert Amu on couples in Ghana undergoing fertility treatment, significant findings on sex life, communication and marital stability were found.  Around 64% of those surveyed reported sex was unfulfilling and unenjoyable and around 68% reported communication as struggled and strained. When asked about divorce, 40% reported that their partner had threatened divorce within the times of treatment. The strain within a couple’s relationship can be another large factor that creates stress, anxiety, depression and other issues for both partners.


Image from: https://www.glamour.com/story/infertility-almost-ended-my-marriage-heres-how-we-survived

Coping with the Effects:

These findings are not true for every individual and couple that undergoes fertility treatment, but for some the feelings that come along with treatment may become too much. For those who experience these feelings and experience mental health strain, there are a variety of options for coping available. These options include:

  • Medications to treat anxiety and depression
  • Other resources such as family, friends or support groups
  • Therapies, both individual and for couples

Finding the proper coping method has proven to change the way individuals adjust during and after the path of infertility. One way will not work for everyone, but the wide range of options allow choices for those seeking to cope.  If you or someone you know is struggling with the effects of fertility treatments, know the options and do not be afraid to get or give help. Included are some links and numbers for those suffering the mental health effects of infertility.

Find Support Groupshttps://resolve.org/support/find-a-support-group/

National Alliance of Mental Health – 1-800-950-NAMI (6264)

Online Therapyhttps://www.talkspace.com/online-therapy/   

End Outcome:

Despite the struggles during the time of infertility, the couples that endure the process have proven to not regret it. This has been shown in both those with positive and negative outcomes.  A German study showed that in the 10 years after infertility, those with children experienced increased self-esteem while those without experienced increased job satisfaction. Many found positive aspects of not having children, instead of letting the negative take over. In both outcomes, there was similar satisfaction with friendships, sex life and overall life quality. These findings prove that the struggles of infertility do not last forever. The road of fertility treatments may seem harsh and unforgiving in the moment, but finding happiness through it all is not impossible. It is important to recognize the mental health toll that comes with the process of infertility, for both those going through it and those on the sidelines. Recognition leads to further understanding, increased support and a push for a more positive ending for those dealing with infertility, whether it end in conception or not.


Image from: https://kindnessblog.com/2015/05/09/empty-arms-and-a-heavy-heart/

April 30, 2020 By:Lauren Rankin

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