How Infertility can Impact a Women's Mental Health

Infertility has a profound impact on women's mental health and on the person as a whole. Physical, emotional, sexual, spiritual, and financial aspects of one's life are all affected by this disease of the reproductive system. The most common mental health concerns reported by fertility patients are symptoms of anxiety and depression [1]. The more physically and emotionally demanding and intrusive patients' medical treatments become, the higher the reported symptoms of anxiety and depression. Each passing monthly cycle brings a roller coaster ride of emotions such as anger, betrayal, guilt, sadness, and even hope. With each friend who announces her pregnancy and with every pregnant woman she passes in the grocery store, the patient's anxiety and stress can become overwhelming.

Infertility can also affect a person's sexual self-esteem, desire, and performance. Many couples have sex as a way to connect emotionally. When sex becomes associated with failure and frustration, couples may lose this emotional connection. The pressure to perform or to have (or abstain from) sex due to infertility treatments can isolate partners and divide couples. Fertility treatments also make sex less spontaneous, as it becomes focused on procreation rather than recreation. As fertility treatments continue, spontaneity and emotional connection can become greater challenges [3].

Spirituality and religious beliefs are often explored by patients as they grapple with feelings of abandonment by God, and some may question their faith. However, the same spiritual or religious ideologies can be utilized as a supportive tool to reduce symptoms of stress and anxiety.

Finances are another area of immense anxiety as couples struggle to pay for medical treatments and still have money left to raise the child(ren). In addition, frequent medical appointments can cause worry about maintaining employment.

Infertility may be the first medical crisis a couple faces together, and mental health professionals play an important role as part of the patient's multidisciplinary team. Mental health professionals are instrumental in guiding patients through grief and loss and helping them to confront numerous possible medical decisions. Mental health professionals provide patients with substantial tools to reduce the negative symptoms associated with stress, depression, and anxiety. These tools can include cognitive behavioral strategies, training in eliciting the relaxation response, positive coping skills training, and communication skills training. Communication skills training is especially helpful due to the stress that infertility inflicts on marital and nonmarital relationships. This training gives patients the framework to identify the negative cycles of distance and conflict, and it teaches them positive cycles of communication and connection.

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Credit to Windy Ezzell, MA, LPC

Michael Hickey