How Infertility Affects Your Mental Health

There are more ways to treat the physical causes of infertility now than there have ever been before. Yet millions of Americans still have to find ways to deal with the emotional stress and anxiety that surface as they struggle to conceive.

Though legitimate, the psychological effects of infertility and its treatment options are researched far less than its physical origins. Here’s how prevalent this health concern actually is in the United States, and how it affects not just physical, but also mental health.

Fertility facts

Couple busy on phone

Couple busy on phone | Grinvalds/iStock/Getty Images

More couples deal with infertility than you might think. While millions struggle to conceive, a relatively small percentage appears to seek treatment. And even though most cases of infertility are due to a physical problem, the emotional stress that comes along with it could make things even worse.

  • An estimated 1.3 million people receive fertility counseling or treatment in the U.S. every year.
  • Most cases of infertility have a physical cause in one or both partners.
  • The focus on physical causes means fewer studies have looked into its psychological effects.
  • Studies suggest infertility has a greater emotional impact on women than it does on men.
  • In 40% of couples dealing with infertility, the male partner either contributes to or is the cause.
  • A large percentage of couples surveyed reported infertility was the “most upsetting” event they’d ever experienced.
  • Up to 90% of cases can be treated with surgery or medication.

Just because infertility usually has a physiological cause doesn’t mean it doesn’t cause psychological distress. Even though it’s not clear whether or not stress causes infertility, the opposite can certainly be true.

How infertility affects mental health

Couples who learn they’ll have to seek extra help to conceive grieve. The classic stages of depression and anger can also lead to physical fatigue, illness, and more — which can add even more stress to an already seemingly unbearable situation.

There’s also the social stress that comes with learning you might not be able to have children of your own. Relationships with partners or spouses aren’t the only ones that suffer. It might seem harder to interact with friends or other family members who have or are going to have kids when you can’t.

Unfortunately, even when couples do have access to common treatment options, they don’t always improve mental health outcomes.

The (mental health) cost of treatment

Fertility doctor

Fertility doctor |

Medical interventions to treat infertility have been shown to increase feelings of stress, depression, and anxiety.

Many of the medications and drugs used in fertility treatments have additional psychological side effects. Add to that the anxiety that comes with the high cost of these treatments, and it’s easy to see why infertility can feel like a living nightmare whether you’re working with a specialist to resolve it or not.

Most experts recommend that couples dealing with the stress of infertility and/or treatment give counseling and psychotherapy a chance. A trained therapist can help both you and your partner learn to cope with every possible emotional side effect.

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