Infertility Counselling and Support: When and Where to Find It
The fertility journey is often described as a roller coaster, with great moments of joy and excitement, but also low moments of disappointment and frustration. As you move through your own journey, you may find that those low moments persist, or are more than you feel you can handle on your own. This is perfectly normal. As much as 40% of women who struggle with infertility will also experience depression and anxiety.
Thankfully, there is a wide range of fertility support available to you. Moreover, receiving mental health care during infertility treatments has been shown to improve live birth rates from assisted reproductive technology. Below, we’ll be discussing some of the common mental health struggles prospective parents might face, as well as what options are available to help and how to find them.
Infertility and mental health
We experience a lot of societal pressure when it comes to growing our families, and receiving an infertility diagnosis can be very isolating. This can lead to feelings of shame or inadequacy, but the reality is that fertility treatments like IVF are more effective than ever. While your struggles are deeply personal, you are not alone.
Your mental health can have a major impact on your stress levels and how equipped you feel to manage them. You may already be aware that high stress levels can lower your chances of becoming pregnant. While it is still unclear whether prolonged high levels of stress cause infertility, we do know that managing stress can have a positive effect on IVF success rates.
It can often be overlooked, but mental-health treatment is an important aspect of infertility treatment as a whole. A recent study has shown that women who struggle with infertility experience depression and anxiety at similar rates as those facing serious health conditions like cancer or other serious personal illness. This is why it is recommended that you prioritize your mental wellbeing as you prepare for and undergo infertility treatment. Taking the time to find the cause of any negative emotions can help reduce any uncertainty and foster a greater sense of wellbeing.
Shedding the stigma
Among people experiencing infertility or undergoing fertility treatments, there is a tendency to under-report symptoms and instead mask your mental distress. Even among those who do report symptoms, many don’t seek treatment. Unfortunately, trying to tough it out on your own can cause the negative emotions to compound, making you less resilient to stress.
It can be challenging to share your mental health struggles. Many people have a hard time with the vulnerability that comes with talking honestly about their emotions, or even identifying them. It’s important to know that your healthcare professionals will handle anything you disclose with the utmost confidentiality. While you don’t have to share what you’re going through with everyone in your life, having someone you can talk things through will significantly improve your experience during treatment.
More importantly, a recent study has shown that not having psychological support is a leading factor in treatment dropout rate. This study also showed that there can often be a gap in psychological care during treatment. While 60% of patients surveyed reported that infertility diagnoses and treatment impacted their mental health, only 44% reported seeking out mental health services. This gap can be remedied by tailoring treatment protocols to individual needs, but you can also be proactive in asking about mental health services and resources when consulting with your infertility specialist.
The importance of asking for support
Having psychological support during in vitro fertilization can have a significant positive impact both on your mental health and on your pregnancy. In one study, 52 infertile women were offered a 10-week behavioral treatment program. The program was found to significantly reduce depression, anxiety, and anger amongst the participants. Another study shows that a group who received couples counselling aimed at addressing anxiety and depression during IVF treatments had lower depression and anxiety scores, as well as higher pregnancy rates. There are also indications that leaving mental health issues untreated can have long term impacts on your emotional wellbeing. Being proactive about your mental health care can help you reduce and avoid emotional pitfalls that may negatively impact your treatment.
What are your options?
The good news is that there are a number of options for both mental health and fertility support. Some people may prefer to seek out a therapist or counsellor who specializes in infertility, while others may find more comfort in being part of a support group or community. Whichever you feel more comfortable with, below you will find information on how to access each type of support.
Your infertility specialist can be an invaluable resource for referrals to mental health professionals in your area, as well as other support resources concerning IVF treatment. The American Society for Reproductive Medicine also has a this useful tool for finding a variety of fertility support services in your area. The professional can be a psychiatrist, family or marriage therapist, social worker, or other therapist. Having health care professionals in your corner can make the negative aspects of infertility treatments feel less daunting.
Local support groups
Finding local support groups focused on IVF treatment or infertility in women can be a productive way to work through your mental health struggles with a community of local women. Resolve.org is an invaluable resource for finding support groups in your area. Talking to people from your community who are going through the same struggles can be uplifting and provide the support you need..
Online support groups & communities
There are a range of online support groups and communities dedicated to easing the mental toll of infertility treatment. Resolve, The Bump, and Daily Strength all provide forums and information on a range of topics related to IVF treatment and mental health in a non-judgmental way, while allowing you to choose your level of anonymity. If sharing your struggles related to fertility treatment options and mental health in person seems to be too intimidating, this can be a great option to ensure that you are still managing your mental health in a constructive way.
Lean on your support network
Having a network of people in your life who support and care for you is always beneficial to your wellbeing, but it becomes even more important when you are going through infertility treatment. Remember that your feelings are always valid. You have people around you who love you unconditionally and want to help you work through those feelings attached to infertility and infertility treatments. As small as it may seem, sometimes just having someone who cares for you actively listen and ask how they can help can make the process more manageable.
In moments of crisis
If ever the challenges become too much to handle, or you are having thoughts of self-harm, please reach out to someone immediately. 988lifeline.org is a national crisis hotline available 24/7. You can reach them by texting or dialing 988 or use their toll-free number 1-800-985-5990. If you don’t feel comfortable speaking over the phone, you can also chat online.
Infertility is never easy, but you don’t have to go through it alone. Whether you feel most comfortable talking through your fertility journey with loved ones, on online support groups, or with a therapist, what matters is that you have an outlet to work through the challenges you face.