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Mental Health and Fertility: What's the Link?

10.05.2021 / Isabella Brown
Mental Health and Fertility: What's the Link?

If you’re going through infertility, you don’t need to be told that it can cause mental health struggles such as anxiety and depression. While it’s been long accepted that infertility causes psychological distress, the possibility of these symptoms affecting fertility has remained controversial. However, recent studies suggest that increased physiological intervention and emotional support may play a role in conception. 

This is not to say that emotional support will be the end all be all to fertility complications- however, research reveals that those going through infertility benefit greatly from psychological intervention. For example, studies have shown that depression may inhibit fertility. Combatting depression by undergoing treatment has been seen to increase pregnancy rates among those suffering from depression. One study revealed that women experiencing severe levels of depression who attended a 10-session cognitive-behavior group program designed to decrease depression and anxiety, experienced a 60% viable pregnancy rate within 6 months, in contrast to a 24% viable pregnancy rate in women who had low levels of depressive symptoms at program entry. Another study showed that women experiencing secondary infertility who went through mental health treatment had higher rates of pregnancy: the experimental participants had a 60% pregnancy rate within 18 months compared to less than 10% of the control group.

In a study that observed the impact of both cognitive behavioral intervention, and support group intervention on pregnancy rates, it was found that both are incredibly impactful. 55% of the cognitive-behavioral group and 54% of the support group participants experienced a viable pregnancy, in contrast to 20% of the controls. The women in this study were not undergoing fertility treatments at this time, but they had all been trying to conceive for 12-24 months. This study reveals the importance of mental health support- whether that be with a therapist or in a group setting. What’s similar in both groups is that these women had a support system they felt they could rely on, and open up to about what they were experiencing. 

Groups across the country have begun in order to address this directly. Organizations such as RESOLVE run support groups for those facing infertility. Speaking about what you’re experiencing, especially with people going through similar things, can be pivotal for your fertility journey. It can also help you combat feelings of depression or anxiety. Asking for help isn’t easy, but it can greatly impact your fertility journey. “Research shows that most individuals going through fertility treatment do not ask for help.  Research also shows that these people tend to experience more feelings of loneliness, isolation, and depression than those that do ask for help,” says Rena Gower, a licensed clinical social worker who specializes in working with those going through infertility. If you are experiencing severe psychological distress, or you feel that you may begin to, seeking help can make all the difference for you. 

Mental health is a monumental aspect of our overall health and wellness. Good mental health empowers us to accomplish the things that we’re working towards, and generally feel our best. Combatting symptoms of mental distress will allow you to feel more confident and in control, not only of your fertility but of anything else you are taking on. If you’re not sure where to start, that’s okay. Asking for help can be daunting. If you’re looking for a therapist to help you through what you’re experiencing, ask your primary care doctor to refer you, or identify specialists who have experience helping patients experiencing infertility (such as Rena Gower or Dr. Loree Johnson). There are so many resources out there to help you through this journey. If you’re thinking about getting mental health support, don’t hesitate. Through it all, remember that you are not alone. 

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