Infertility can be one of the most distressing life crises for couples. Studies on the emotional impact of infertility found that approximately 15% of men and up to 50% of women said that their infertility issue was the most traumatic experience of their lives. Learning about infertility treatments and making medical decisions brings with it uncertainties but reaching out for help at a time like this will allow couples to overcome this issue. Although couples cannot completely avoid the psychological impact of fertility issues, there are several ways to reduce the emotional fallout from infertility.
How Infertility Affects Mental And Emotional Health
Facing infertility can be challenging for both partners and put a great deal of stress on their relationship which is why fertility experts often caution couples not to ignore the emotional effects of infertility. Social studies indicate that couples who face infertility have a higher risk of mental health issues, especially anxiety and depression. One such study found that 23% of people with infertility had anxiety issues as compared to only 11% of the general population. Similarly, 17% of women undergoing infertility treatment were diagnosed with major depression as compared to 6% of women who did not face infertility issues.
People with fertility issues as well as those undergoing infertility treatments are also at a higher risk of experiencing loss of self-esteem, guilt and grief. However, there is a silver lining – researchers found that these mental and emotional health issues were transient and temporary in nature and passed once the situation was resolved.
How To Deal With The Psychological Effects Of Infertility And Fertility Treatments
Infertility is not a typical health crisis but it causes a chronic stress reaction which is the root cause of most of the mental health effects of infertility – understanding this is the first step in coping with infertility and fertility treatments. Fertility experts often recommend a combination of therapies that can help in overcoming the psychological impact of infertility.
Infertility counselling is a specialized form of counselling that addresses key issues and offers interventions to couples experiencing infertility. Infertility counselling provides couples with coping strategies and the tools that can help them make decisions regarding infertility treatments. Ideally, infertility counselling should begin before patients undergo their infertility treatment as it can help to reduce levels of stress, anxiety and depression – all of which are linked to lower levels of fertility. Thus, infertility counselling will not only help couples cope with the mental pressure of their infertility issues but it can also have a direct impact on the outcome of their infertility treatment.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) helps individuals identify and modify unhealthy thought and behaviour patterns. This type of therapy helps couples to respond more effectively to inherent and unavoidable stressors such as financial considerations, medication side effects and decisions regarding the choice of infertility treatment. CBT helps to reduce stress, improves relationships and can provide relief to individuals suffering from mild to moderate depression. CBT focuses on helping people identify their stress triggers so that they can be alleviated through relaxation, cognitive and behavioural strategies.
The physical demands of fertility treatments, including blood tests, daily hormone injections, egg retrievals and IVF (in vitro fertilization) cycles can be a source of emotional upheaval and stress, especially for women. A recent study found that women with infertility face the same levels of anxiety and depression as people diagnosed with potentially fatal diseases such as cancer. It is not surprising that sometimes psychological therapies alone are unable to manage the emotional toll of infertility and in such cases antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications may be recommended. Infertility medications can interact with certain groups of medications so if you are taking any medicines, make sure that you discuss this with your fertility expert.
Infertility should not be viewed as an insurmountable barrier but rather as an unintended journey; one that can have a joyous and fulfilling destination. It is important to keep in mind that fertility treatments such as IVF have a success rate of 35 -55% and the chances of conceiving are even higher with repeated cycles. While the stress and psychological impact of infertility and its treatments are inevitable, it is worth it to be able to fulfil your dream of being a parent.
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