In the United States, an estimated 1 in 8 couples struggles with fertility. The sadness that naturally occurs when people find out they may not be able to have children is often significant, spiraling into anxiety and depression. One study found that half the women and 15% of men who seek infertility treatment experience depression. Another found that women with infertility suffer the same level of stress as those suffering from cancer. And when the man has a physiological problem causing the infertility, he suffers similarly.
Depression and anxiety can complicate matters when dealing with infertility, as they can affect regular body processes. Therefore if physiological problems exist, depression can worsen the problem and decrease the possibility of successful treatment.
Unfortunately, while many couples reach out for medical intervention during this time, few get the psychological help that they need. Infertility causes the same grief cycle as with any loss. Couples need to be aware of the symptoms of anxiety and depression in order to intercept them and reach out to a counselor or psychologist who understands the painful issues of infertility.
- Signs that your sadness of infertility is actually depression or anxiety:
- You’re thinking about having a baby throughout the day.
- You feel ashamed, defective, or worthless, or you blame yourself.
- You experience on-going negative emotions: persistent sadness, nervousness or panic attacks, or are more easily angered.
- You have trouble concentrating or remembering things.
- You can’t sleep or you sleep too much. You can’t eat or you eat too much.
- You lose interest in your hobbies.
- Your relationships are suffering. You may feel isolated from others, or purposely isolate yourself—to avoid seeing mothers with their children or to avoid people asking hurtful questions or giving well-intentioned advice. Old friends no longer bring you happiness and you may lose interest in sex.
- You self-medicate with alcohol or drugs.
- You consider harming yourself.
- Don’t wait to seek help
Sadness while experiencing infertility is natural. The symptoms listed above may be part of your experience but they can be mitigated with help. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms you need to talk to a mental health expert. You don’t have to feel this way. As a couple and as individuals, talking out your feelings and getting guidance on how to deal with them is crucial to strengthening your bond and renewing your joy in life.
Finding peace and purpose will help you before you reach the point of self-medication or self-harm. If you’ve reached that point already, do not delay. This is a dark road to walk alone. I counsel couples and individuals and try to help them find new meaning, to strengthen their relationships, and to move forward toward a bright future.