National Infertility Awareness Week: Infertility & Mental Health
April 23rd through the 29th is National Infertility Awareness Week (NIAW), a time to bring awareness to issues surrounding infertility. One important consideration is how infertility impacts mental health.
While everyone experiences infertility differently, some people may feel a sense of grief, but eventually, they can accept the facts and work toward finding alternative options for conceiving a baby. For others, the emotional impact of infertility is severe; it can even result in mental health conditions. Find out what you can do to cope, what symptoms to look for, and how and when to seek treatment for infertility-linked issues such as anxiety and depression.
Infertility and Stress
Infertility is known to cause levels of stress that could lead to mental health problems, such as anxiety and depression. Studies show that the stressors experienced by infertility patients are similar to the level of emotional stress people with cancer undergo. While stress alone is unlikely to cause infertility, severe stress and anxiety can interfere with a person's ability to conceive. So, it's vital to learn some positive coping mechanisms and how to recognize when the stress response is getting out of hand.
Infertility, Anxiety, and Depression
Although sadness, stress-related tension, and anxiety are common reactions to coping with infertility, some specific signs and symptoms could indicate a mental health issue that requires treatment.
Obsessive Thinking About Fertility
It’s normal to have infertility on your mind often, especially when undergoing fertility care. But feeling as though you are unable to think or talk about anything other than getting pregnant (even between treatment cycles) may indicate an issue that could improve with counseling.
Unrelenting Feelings of Guilt
Blaming yourself for a medical condition is unwarranted. However, people with infertility commonly engage in self-guilt for various reasons such as getting an STD that caused infertility, not freezing their eggs or sperm, and so on.
Feelings of Shame
Feeling as though you are defective or broken because of fertility is a sign that you may benefit from the support offered by counseling. Some people worry that their partner will leave because they cannot conceive a baby. It’s important to understand that you are much more than your infertility; an infertility counselor or another mental health professional can help you realize that.
Persistent Feelings of Sadness
While disappointment and sadness are common responses when a pregnancy test comes back negative, after an unwanted fertility test result, or when fertility treatment fails, persistent sadness that rarely subsides could be a sign of depression. Other signs may include:
- Low energy level
- Trouble concentrating
- Changes in your normal eating pattern (i.e., eating too much or too little)
- Insomnia or sleeping too much
- Extended periods of sadness that interferes with daily life
- Losing interest in hobbies and activities you once enjoyed
- Social isolation
- Thoughts of suicide or self-harm
If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, contact the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If there is an immediate threat, call 911.
While stress often accompanies the challenges of going through infertility treatment, if your anxiety is consistently interfering with your daily routine or causing panic attacks, seeing a counselor could help improve the situation. Some signs and symptoms of anxiety disorder that indicate more than just a temporary nervous response include:
- Tension-induced nervousness that does not subside
- Worrying that impedes everyday life
- Feeling anxious for no particular reason
- Having trouble concentrating
- Frequent irritability and fatigue
- Unexplained aches and pains, headaches, muscle aches, or stomachache
- Inability to fall asleep or stay asleep
- Experiencing panic attacks
If you experience signs and symptoms of depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues, seeking help is essential. A mental health professional, such as a therapist or counselor, can help you sort through your feelings and evaluate the severity of your symptoms. Infertility counseling involves a therapist specializing in supporting couples and individuals facing fertility challenges. Infertility counseling is often utilized to help an individual or couple make family planning decisions, such as using a sperm or egg donor, gestational surrogate, or whether to adopt a child.
Learn more about fertility counseling and support and where to find it here.