How Infertility Impacts Women’s and Men’s Mental Health
Infertility can be defined as the inability to conceive after having regular unprotected intercourse. According to Fertility Matters Canada (2016), the term infertility can also be known as the inability to contribute biologically to a conception or the inability to carry a pregnancy to a live birth. Infertility is a global health problem recognized by the World Health Organization, where it is estimated that one in six couples have been affected by infertility at least once (Cao, Bai, & Zhang, 2022). It has been shown that infertility is 40% male and female-related, meaning that infertility can be caused by men who are unable to produce sperm just as equally as women who are unable to become pregnant, while the other 20% is related to unknown causes. However, in some communities, the blame for the inability of a couple to bear children is mainly placed on the women of the couple (Hasanpoor-Azghdy et al., 2014). Because there are women who are infertile or unable to carry a pregnancy to full-term, they are often time primarily blamed for a couple’s inability to provide children. Although infertility is not a disease, it has adverse impacts on those affected by it and is still considered a stressful life experience for both men and women.
How Men Are Impacted by Infertility
Men who experience intense psychological distress are also perceived to have a risk of reducing their likelihood of being fertile (Simionescu et al., 2012). It has been shown that men who suffer from infertility gain an intense sense of humiliation and consider it to be extremely emasculating. In addition, men who have a chance of being infertile have infertility-specific anxiety that is extremely common to exhibit (Fisher & Hammarberg, 2017). According to Fisher and Hammarberg (2011), men are already unable to fully express vulnerabilities caused by societal pressures and stereotypes, which can only promote their appearance of toughness and emotional control. As it is already challenging for men to express vulnerabilities, not being able to talk about their infertility journey could cause that much more mental health complications.
How Women Are Impacted by Infertility
For women who dream about becoming a mother and later find out that they are unable to do so because of something out of their control there are devastating effects placed on their mental well-being (Kayfetz, 2022). For women who have always wanted to become a mother seeing families and young children may prompt feelings of intense envy and sadness. It is also common for women to body shame themselves when they learn that their body is not performing the way they believe they should; thus, adding more feelings of pressure and guilt (Kayfetz, 2022). Although infertility can impact both men and women in adverse ways, it has been shown that women report greater psychological distress compared to men (American Psychiatric Association, 2019). When women experience infertility at least once in their lives they are placed at great risk of developing a psychiatric diagnosis. According to American Psychiatric Association (2019), up to 40% of women who have experienced infertility soon become diagnosed with depression and/or anxiety. It is important to clarify that although there are multitudes of research conducted on infertility and its impacts on women’s mental health in the United States, there is little research conducted on this subject in Canada. Hence why we included information from the American Psychiatric Association to inform readers on the issue regarding a lack of information surrounding the mental health component of infertility in Canada.
How To Cope
When having complications regarding fertility individuals may feel as though their sense of self-worth has diminished tremendously, however, there are ways that those who suffer from such hardship can cope. First, it is crucial to allow yourself to be fully vulnerable, going through infertility is challenging enough but not allowing yourself to fully express your emotions will make it more difficult. Allow yourself to feel angry and heartbroken because if you were to bottle up these emotions without expressing them fully the outcomes could result in extreme burnout and mental exhaustion. Next, when facing infertility there can be the uncertainty of what it could mean for the future, such as questioning the possibility of becoming fertile and having children. When facing these uncertainties, it could be beneficial to communicate with your partner about the hardships and negative emotions you both are feeling. Sitting down and having a conversation where you are both engaged in active listening is a crucial aspect of coping with infertility because it can help you and your partner move forward together rather than separately.
The hardship of infertility is a challenging one, but it does not have to be experienced alone. Fertility Matters Canada holds a wide variety of resources made for individuals suffering from infertility and needing assistance. The website (https://fertilitymatters.ca/) includes a list of support groups anyone can get in touch with across Ontario and all of Canada to further promote connectedness among those who have experienced infertility. If you are suffering from any negative emotions caused by infertility struggles feel free to contact our RMTC team to book a one-on-one therapy session, or if you and your partner are in need of extra relationship support you may also book a couples therapy appointment. Get in touch with us via telephone at (226) 894-4112 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cao, D., Bai, C., & Zhang, G. (2022). Psychological distress among infertility patients: A network analysis. Frontiers in Psychology, 13. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2022.906226
Fisher, J. R. W., & Hammarberg, K. (2011). Psychological and social aspects of infertility in men: An overview of the evidence and implications for psychologically informed clinical care and future research. Asian Journal of Andrology, 14(1), 121–129. https://doi.org/10.1038/aja.2011.72
Fisher, J., & Hammarberg, K. (2017). Psychological aspects of infertility among men. Endocrinology, 1–31. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-29456-8_46-1
Hasanpoor-Azghdy, S. B., Simbar, M., & Vedadhir, A. (2014). The emotional-psychological consequences of infertility among infertile women seeking treatment: Results of a qualitative study. Iranian journal of reproductive medicine. Retrieved April 14, 2023, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4009564/
Infertility: The impact of stress and mental health. American Psychiatric Association. (2019). Retrieved April 17, 2023, from https://www.psychiatry.org/news-room/apa-blogs/infertility-the-impact-of-stress-and-mental-health#:~:text=Up%20to%2040%25%20of%20women,compared%20to%20the%20general%20population.
Kayfetz, E. (2022). Infertility and its impact on women's Mental Health. Room For Her. Retrieved April 17, 2023, from https://roomforher.ca/blog/body/infertility-and-its-impact-on-womens-mental-health/
Simionescu, G., Doroftei, B., Maftei, R., Obreja, B.-E., Anton, E., Grab, D., Ilea, C., & Anton, C. (2021). The complex relationship between infertility and psychological distress (review). Experimental and Therapeutic Medicine, 21(4). https://doi.org/10.3892/etm.2021.9737
What is infertility. Fertility Matters Canada (FMC). (2016). Retrieved April 17, 2023, from https://fertilitymatters.ca/what-is-infertility/#:~:text=Infertility%20can%20be%20defined%20as,women%20over%2035%20years%20old.