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Silent Struggles: The Psychological Toll of Infertility

Guide to Mental Wellness for People Suffering with Infertility

Many people consider having a family the ultimate goal for leading a fulfilling life. But for some, the likelihood of this dream becoming a reality is more complicated or even impossible.

Knowing the right coping strategies helps one deal with such stressful situations better. In this post, we will focus on how infertility affects people psychologically and the best tips to manage it.

What is Infertility?

Infertility is a medical disease where people have difficulty conceiving children in the natural way. Statistically, 19% of married women in the US between 15-49 years of age suffer from female infertility. Male infertility is also common.

Different factors cause this disease in people, whether men or women. For example, 15% of male infertility patients cannot reproduce because of irregular sperm production from underlying conditions like azoospermia. Depending on the cause and extent of the fertility problems, doctors can medically treat people with infertility.

However, they undergo extreme emotional stress during the process, worrying about societal stigma, the results of the treatment, etc. Therefore, this experience does have a psychological impact on both the diagnosed person and their loved ones.

Causes of infertility

Different types of factors negatively impact male or female fertility levels. However, it is not always possible to accurately detect the cause.

Common issues harming the male reproductive system include:

  • Medical conditions like diabetes
  • Infections like mumps, HIV, or chlamydia
  • Genetic diseases like cystic fibrosis
  • Physical damage to the male reproductive organs from accident or testicular blockage
  • Exposure to environmental toxins from radiation, pesticides, etc.
  • Injuries in the male reproductive system from past cancer treatment

Common factors negatively affecting the female reproductive system are:

  • Ovulation problems like PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome)
  • Endometriosis
  • Damaged fallopian tubes due to infection or injury from previous surgeries
  • Cervical or uterine issues like cervical stenosis
  • Damages in the female reproductive system due to cancer treatment

Symptoms of female or male infertility

When one cannot conceive even after engaging in unprotected sex for months, they likely have fertility issues. Besides that, there are other signs of this disease in both women and men.

Signs of infertility for women:

  • Irregular menstrual periods
  • An abnormally long or short menstrual cycle
  • Thinning hair
  • Increased hair growth on the face
  • Obesity
  • Irregular menstrual periods

Signs of infertility for men:

  • Reduced hair growth in the chest, mustache, and beard areas
  • Firm and small testicles
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Reduced libido
  • Less fluid ejaculation from the seminal vesicles
  • Swelling and pain in the testicles
  • Gynecomastia
  • Other problems with regular breathing or smelling functions
  • Low sperm count

Impact of infertility on affected individuals

When addressing infertility and how it impacts the patient, we must look beyond the physiological effects of the disease. People suffering from this condition cannot openly express the issue for fear of societal stigma.

The affected individuals find it difficult to come to terms with it and often blame themselves. It affects their self-esteem and causes them to isolate themselves more.

Sometimes, the blame comes from their partner, increasing feelings of resentment and internal guilt. Not to mention, the various fertility treatments available can altogether rack up a considerable amount, which causes additional financial strain. All of these impact people psychologically in different manners.

Ways in which infertility affects mental health:

People suffering from infertility can react to their condition in different manners. So, naturally, the psychological effect of this diagnosis can appear as different symptoms for them. Here are the most common examples:

  • Continued depressive phase
  • Lack of interest in regular activities
  • Emphasized focus on your condition than other topics
  • Heightened anxiety
  • Concentration issue
  • Strained relationship with spouse/partner, friends, and family members
  • Changed appetite
  • Changes in the sleeping pattern
  • Difficulty accomplishing most tasks
  • Social isolation
  • Increased alcohol or drug dependency
  • A persistent feeling of anger or bitterness
  • Self-directed negative emotion, like a feeling of guilt
  • Low self-esteem
  • Suicidal thoughts

The degree to which someone undergoes these symptoms can differ from person to person. Yet, it is better to get adequate fertility care services as soon as you get the diagnosis. Attending sessions with mental health professionals, even at the earliest stage, can positively impact people dealing with infertility.

Plus, male and female infertility are two sides of the same coin. But, the type of emotional stress that a man or a woman will face when they have this condition will differ. So, it is important to consider that while addressing the psychological impact of infertility and plan suitable coping strategies.

How does infertility-related psychological stress affect one’s loved ones?

The psychological impact of infertility affects one with the diagnosis most- that part is true. However, those around them also undergo emotional stress from this situation, whether directly or indirectly. In this discussion about infertility and fertility care, we should consider this as well.

Among couples trying to conceive a baby, the partner of the affected individual also undergoes deteriorating mental health. Anxiety and depression are very common effects in such cases, even when they are undergoing fertility care. One study showed that 56% of female participants and 32% of male participants experienced depression while receiving treatment.

Tips To Improve The Mental Health Of Those Dealing With Infertility

There are certain things you can do to deal with the negative psychological effects of infertility. The following are a few of the best solutions.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

CBT, or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, is a type of psychotherapeutic method that can help one deal with negative emotions with a thought-centric approach. In simple words, it harnesses the power of thinking to challenge your own musings.

When you feel negative emotions about certain situations, those thoughts come to you subconsciously based on your current emotional status. A CBT therapist will help you recognize your thought patterns more consciously and challenge them. With your conscious awareness, command your mind to think good thoughts instead.

For example, when you subconsciously think, “It’s my fault we cannot get pregnant,” CBT will allow you to replace it with a positive affirmation.

With continued practice, your instinctive thought process can change to a more optimistic tone.

Relaxing techniques

You can use multiple relaxation techniques to reduce your stress and anxiety better. For example, mindful breathing exercises will help you center yourself and regulate your feelings better, according to Claire Merrifield, co-founder and medical director at Selph.

She further adds, “Regularly practicing mindfulness meditations, ideally for 10 minutes twice a day, can gradually help you recognize unhelpful thought patterns, avoid getting stuck in them, and enjoy your life more as it is right now, whatever happens next.”

Yoga

Yoga is one of the most ancient therapeutic practices couples can try when dealing with infertility-related stress. It includes exercises that involve flexible movements and breathing techniques. The moves are great for meditative stress relief.

Acupuncture

Another interesting technique you can use is acupuncture. It can decrease your anxiety and stress during this period and help you relax better. “Additionally,” says Michaela Ramirez, MD, founder of O My Gulay, “acupuncture may help to regulate hormones and improve blood flow to the reproductive organs, which can improve fertility.”

Guided imagery

Guided imagery is one of the more unique coping strategies to try for stress management with male or female infertility. This process includes a therapist guiding participants through an imagery-focused relaxation exercise. The image in question can contain a picture of a relaxing scenery or color to calm the mind.

Journaling

Journaling about your feelings is a good coping strategy to adopt in this situation. Couples who are going through extensive fertility care treatments like in vitro fertilization (IVF) can experience a lot of tension during the waiting period. Writing down your thoughts in a journal or maintaining a gratitude diary can give them a healthy outlet during this period.

Tips For Supporting People Suffering From Infertility

There are steps you can take to help a loved one maintain good mental health when dealing with infertility issues.

  • Understand their specific circumstances to stay as a support when the low periods hit.
  • Avoid problem-solving on their behalf- instead, stay as a supportive listener.
  • Listen to their feelings and thoughts with an open mind.
  • Approach them in a thoughtful manner when you want to give them your good news instead of hiding it.
  • Avoid talking to them in a placating or patronizing manner.

Final Words

Infertility as a condition can affect anyone, and getting timely medical attention is necessary. However, you should prioritize healing the psychological effect from this as well. Attend counseling sessions with a trustworthy mental health professional and talk about your emotional condition and other health problems. Besides that, rely on your family and friends for mental and social support.

Above all, though, remember that you are more than your condition and have other options to try. The process of healing from infertility will take time, both physiologically and psychologically. Just continue focusing on improving your lifestyle, like regular exercise, and deal with this situation healthily.

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Published by Admin, On Dec 12, 2023