How Fertility Issues Can Impact Your Mental Health
According to the Fertility Society, one in six couples in New Zealand and Australia suffer infertility.
While the problem may be caused by genetic and physical factors, the inability to conceive can have a large impact on a person’s mental health too. The stress that comes with trying month after month can lead to emotions causing anxiety, depression, financial and marital issues, self-criticism, and social isolation.
PMW psychologist Evelyn Langlois has much experience in helping couples who are struggling with fertility issues.
Evelyn comments: ‘Couples who are struggling to conceive naturally often experience distressing emotions that are common to those who are grieving any significant loss, in this case, the ability to procreate.’ She adds: ‘Infertility is often a silent struggle. Typical reactions include shock, grief, shame, guilt, anger, isolation, frustration, low self-esteem, and a sense of loss of control over one’s destiny. These negative emotions may lead to varying degrees of depression, anxiety, distress, and a poor quality of life.’
This post will discuss how fertility issues and mental health and how we can offer help during this difficult time.
Fertility Issues Can Lead To:
Anxiety, Depression & Grief
While fertility problems certainly impact both partners, research suggests that women are generally more affected – both psychologically and emotionally. A woman may begin to feel depressed or anxious due to experiencing a miscarriage or failed fertility treatment. This may worsen if the woman has undertaken emotionally and physically demanding fertility treatments such as IVF.
Evelyn states: ‘Couples who receive assisted reproductive treatment are at significant risk of experiencing mental health problems.’
The preparations, anticipation, and frustration when treatments are found to be unsuccessful can bring along a whole range of negative emotions. These emotions may include sadness, guilt, uselessness, anger and hopelessness. You may also feel upset and insecure when you see someone else pregnant or announcing their pregnancy.
These mental health concerns must be addressed. To avoid worsening symptoms or a breakdown, it is advisable for both partners to see a therapist for support and assurance.
Self-worth & Intimacy
If a couple continues to be unsuccessful in falling pregnant, this can eventually begin to affect their self-worth along with their sexual intimacy. Being intimate may become associated only with stress, frustration and failure and could put a couple at risk of losing their physical connection.
Both couples could be left feeling isolated and estranged from one another. Intimacy may have become less spontaneous as they are too caught up in the tension and stress to conceive. These pressures may add to feelings of anxiety and depression.
Another difficult aspect is the feeling to isolate socially due to the pain of being around other couples who seem to have started a family effortlessly. Some couples find it difficult when others announce pregnancy news, baby showers and gender reveals. Again, feelings of depression and anxiety can be triggered but relationships can also be affected as friends and family members with babies may be continually avoided.
What can help?
Identify stress triggers
As part of preparing for an IVF procedure, it can be helpful to know your areas of vulnerability and anticipate possible treatment points of stress. As IVF can be unpredictable, try to plan for the unexpected along with the predictable stressors.
Plan coping strategies
There are numerous effective coping strategies available that can help reduce areas of stress including the mental challenge of the treatment and pressure on relationships.
Making time for meaningful connections with those you love, ensuring you have quality downtime each day, and adding exercise into your daily routine can all help reduce stress.
Support groups and forums
For some couples, connecting with others who are experiencing similar issues is a large support because often, fertility issues are a struggle that only people who have been there themselves can fully understand.
Speak to a professional
Psychological therapies can help you to identify and change negative behaviours and thoughts that come with depression and anxiety and will provide you with the needed strategies to manage your feelings and symptoms more effectively. As Evelyn says: ‘It is important to recognise, acknowledge, and assist these couples as they cope with their infertility diagnosis and treatment.’
Psychological therapies can help you identify and alter unhelpful behaviours and thought patterns associated with your stress and anxiety, along with providing strategies to help you tolerate the symptoms more effectively.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapies (CBT)
Cognitive behavioural therapy is widely considered as one of the most effective treatments for anxiety. It acknowledges that some behaviours and thoughts can increase anxiety or delay your recovery from it. CBT helps to identify and alter negative thoughts that contribute to mental distress.
As an example, you may catastrophise about IVF treatment, assuming you won’t be able to handle it, worry about letting your partner down, or that you’ll experience negative side-effects. CBT helps you to focus on problem-solving. It encourages effective, goal-directed behaviour. Creating an action plan helps you to break problems down into more manageable steps that can make your situation feel less overwhelming.
While a gynecologist or fertility specialist focuses on the physical side of things, it’s important to seek a psychologist to address the mental health issues that go hand in hand with infertility. Your doctor may be able to help you find a therapy service such as Positive Mind Works for fertility counselling that covers a wide range of approaches and techniques to help mentally guide you through the procedures that you may face as a couple.
Many couples allow trying to get conceive to dominate their life. If you think about having a baby constantly, feel isolated from your family or partner, can’t concentrate at work, or find enjoyment in your life, you may benefit from seeking professional psychological support.
At Positive Mind Works, psychologist Evelyn Langlois is widely experienced in helping provide help and support for couples facing fertility issues and mental health. To make an appointment with Evelyn, click here, or call our friendly reception team on 1800 327 477.