How Infertility Affects Mental Health

By Kate Henson, ORM Fertility Psy.D. Licensed Clinical Psychologist

Infertility can be a mentally, physically and emotionally challenging road. With all the ups and downs that come along with the journey, those facing infertility are often more prone to experiencing heightened depression and anxiety along the way. 

An Unexpected Journey

When you dreamt of becoming a parent, you likely didn’t visualize needing a team of doctors, embryologists, genetic counselors, or donors to help you achieve that goal. From an early age, many of us have even been taught that as a woman or someone with eggs, being a parent is imperative to our identity, and not achieving that milestone can create feelings of inadequacy or imperfection. Despite this being categorically untrue, these antiquated ideas can deliver a significant blow to one’s confidence, self-esteem, emotions, and overall mental health. 

In addition to learning that you might not become a parent in the ways you had envisioned, you have also become a fertility patient. Although conversations around fertility and increased awareness that 1 in 8 struggle to conceive, this is an identity that historically has been stigmatized and can, in turn, induce some negative feelings. The first steps in seeking fertility treatment can cause fear, panic, anger, and bewilderment. You may hurriedly seek out answers online or experience anger towards medical staff who delivered your news. But the truth is, it’s no one’s fault, and know that you are not going crazy or overreacting. These reactions are common as the stress experienced due to infertility is on par with those who have experienced a heart attack or cancer.

How Fertility Affects Your Everyday Life

How Infertility Affects Mental Health

Fertility treatment can spill over into all areas of your life. Your social life, family, leisure, and work activities are all competing with your doctor appointments, medication, and injection schedule. Your dominating thoughts surrounding all things fertility has likely come to occupy an overwhelming amount of space in your brain and at the expense of activities you previously enjoyed. Add hormonal medications to the mix, which are known to impact mood and anxiety, and it’s no wonder so many people receiving fertility treatment feel like they are on a rollercoaster of emotions!

There are also a number of other factors that may increase mental health issues during fertility treatment such as: 

  • Coping style
  • Strain on relationships
  • Minimal social support or discomfort in sharing your journey with your support system
  • Financial strain
  • Medication side effects
  • World view
  • Identity formation or crisis
  • Prior miscarriages or unsuccessful treatments
  • And constant reminders of your desire for a child

Many people have their first experience with depression or anxiety during fertility treatment. However, if you have experienced depression or anxiety prior to your participation in fertility treatment, or you have a family history of depression or anxiety, you may be more prone to developing increased symptoms during your treatment. 

What To Do If You Need Support

If you have a history of depression or anxiety and you are currently being treated with medication, DO NOT STOP TAKING YOUR MEDICATION WITHOUT CONSULTING YOUR DOCTOR. Psychiatrists working specifically within fertility medicine agree that most medications used to treat anxiety and depression are relatively safe during pregnancy and treatment.

Person on a balcony meditating for mental healthIt is best for you and your doctor to discuss the benefits and potential outcomes regarding your medications during your fertility treatment and pregnancy.

On the flip side, you might have never previously struggled with mental health and are now experiencing depression or anxiety for the first time in response to the multitude of factors related to your fertility treatment. Counseling or medication may help you treat your symptoms and allow you to find more peace during your fertility journey and set you up to carry out a safe and healthy pregnancy. It may not alleviate all of your depression and anxiety, but it can certainly help lower the degree of stress and create a better quality of life. Again, remember you are not alone in feeling this way. One of the top reasons why people discontinue fertility treatment is due to psychological factors and emotional distress but there are many resources to support you and help you overcome it.

How Do I Know When To Seek Help? 

How do I know when I should seek support for my depression or anxiety? The short answer: anytime you feel you need support, you should seek support. Unfortunately, many people think that psychologists are only for those who have been clinically diagnosed with depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues. This could not be farther from the truth, though addressing these fallacies could be another entire blog post! Counseling is the support that is there to help anyone who needs it. 

As an additional resource, the list below outlines common symptoms of depression and anxiety. If you are experiencing one or several of these symptoms, it may be helpful to talk to your doctor to find support that is best suited for you.

Anxiety

  • Excessive Anxiety or Worry Most Days
  • Difficulty Concentrating or Controlling Worry
  • Feeling Restless or Fatigued
  • Irritability or Muscle Tension
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Symptoms (Recurrent persistent thoughts/images/urges followed by rigidly applied repetitive behaviors or mental acts to reduce anxiety)
  • Panic Attacks (Heart racing or shallow breathing, feeling like you are having or about to have a heart attack)

Depression

  • Depressed Mood (Sad, Down, Tearful)
  • Loss of Interest in Hobbies
  • Measurable Weight Loss or Gain
  • Sleeping Too Much or Too Little
  • Physical Agitation or Slowing
  • Fatigue or Low Energy
  • Feelings of Worthlessness or Guilt
  • Difficulty Concentrating, Thinking, or Indecisiveness
  • Recurrent Thoughts of Death (Wishing you were dead but not by means of suicide)
  • Suicidal thoughts, ideation, or attempts

How Infertility Affects Mental HealthRegardless of whether you feel you fit the descriptions above, if you are struggling, unhappy, worried, and/or stressed for more than a few weeks, seeking support can help ease your worries and find the strength to persevere through your fertility journey. Find a community that you are comfortable with and can lean on throughout this process, whether that’s your partner, friends, family or your clinical team, it’s helpful to find others that can support you as you embark on this journey.

ORM Fertility has mental health professionals on staff for you to schedule with as needed. You may also check with your insurance company for a list of qualified mental health professionals (QMHPs) that are covered in your area. When interviewing a therapist, it may help to ask if they have experience working in fertility medicine.

If you are experiencing intense feelings of depression or anxiety, or know someone experiencing intense depression or anxiety, don’t hesitate to reach out to a local or national support hotline for help: 

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