Infertility is perceived as a biological incapacity to contribute to conception or the inability to carry a pregnancy to full term. It refers to a problem across all cultures and societies, and it can affect both women and men, largely in couples of reproductive age. It is essential to understand that you are not alone! Infertility affects millions of people and couples in the world, and the numbers grow every year. Infertility can also have different meanings:
- For women under the age of 35, infertility is the inability to procreate after a year of unprotected sexual relations.
- For women between 35-40 years, infertility is the inability to conceive after six months of unprotected sexual intercourse.
- For women over the age of 40, infertility is considered after three months of unprotected intercourse without pregnancy.
Every person or couple reacts differently, but this phenomenon does impact mental health for most of them.
Nowadays, couples tend to start a family later due to their educational and professional development goals.
Increasingly, women are intentionally delaying pregnancy to the age of 35, which is relevant to the risks related to conception and pregnancy, partially explaining the increase of involuntary childlessness and smaller than desired families.
Other factors can contribute to the diagnosis of infertility: anatomical abnormalities, genetic, hormonal, and metabolic problems. It is also often related to age, infections, lifestyle (smoking, for instance), cancer treatments, antiphospholipid syndrome, environmental chemicals, and other diseases.
How can infertility affect our mental health?
Although infertility is not a disease, it is a life crisis in socio-cultural, emotional, physical, and financial aspects.
Infertility and its treatment can considerably impact your life, causing even various psychological-emotional disorders or consequences, such as depression, anxiety, guilt, shame, frustration, anger, or feelings of inadequacy.
In terms of socio-cultural patterns, couples can suffer a huge change when they experience infertility. It may lead them to isolation, depression, shame or guilt. More often than not, couples become frightened about facing society and about being judged. So, they isolate themselves and face this process alone.
Infertility raises the levels of stress, depression, or anxiety. However, emotional distress can also be responsible for physiological changes, like infertility.
Furthermore, infertility may affect a couple’s sexual performance and self-esteem. Usually, couples have sex to connect emotionally. However, when this intimate moment becomes an obligation or associated with failure and frustration, couples lose this emotional connection.
The fertility treatments put couples under pressure to procreate, making sex less spontaneous and, consequently, their relationship, leading to another problem: couple separation, once spontaneity and emotional connection become challenging.
Another area that can lead to anxiety, depression, frustration or worse, is finances. Couples may be struggling to pay for all medical treatments, and frequent medical appointments can disturb the ability to maintain one’s job.
How to treat or avoid the impact of infertility on your mental health?
There are multiple ways to seek support for those experiencing infertility and struggling with their mental health.
Depending on your infertility causes, your doctor might recommend some treatments to lead you to conception. Infertility may represent the first medical crisis that a couple faces together. It is demanding, rigorous, and requires help from mental health professionals.
Mental health professionals have an essential role in guiding patients to reduce the negative symptoms impact by providing couples with tools to cope with stress, depression and anxiety. These tools may include cognitive-behavioral strategies, training in triggering the relaxation response, training skills to cope with some circumstances, and communication skills training. The last tool is especially helpful because couples tend to conflict due to guilt, shame, or other factors stemming from infertility. This training allows you to identify your partner’s triggers and overcome the situation through communication.
Fertility has a solution. However, as every case is particular, it should be recommended by your doctor. Still, in cases where fertility treatments prove to be unsuccessful, professional mental health help is more important than ever.
In conclusion, the relationship between mental health and infertility presents complex challenges and a wide range of clinical situations. Therefore, a biopsychosocial approach is necessary for the diagnosis and management of the whole experience. Mental health professionals play an essential role since they can provide patients with tools for treatment. This treatment can be based on medication, therapy or other methods. The most important thing is to reduce negative symptoms, avoid anxiety and depression, and develop a couple’s communication strategies and techniques.