Becoming a parent is a dream for many, yet turning this dream into reality isn’t always as straightforward as hoped. Around one in six individuals are affected by infertility worldwide. This equates to millions of people dealing with the psychological impact of a diagnosis, and the subsequent physical and emotional toll of infertility treatments.
Shock, disbelief, anger, shame, anxiety, and depression. These are just some of the emotions commonly experienced on the rollercoaster of infertility and infertility treatment—emotions that can intensify with every unsuccessful attempt to conceive. One study indicated that infertile couples are subject to greater stress and have an increased risk of developing psychological disorders compared with healthy couples. However, it isn’t just heterosexual couples that experience mental health decline due to infertility.
Single men and women with infertility and individuals from the LGBTQIA+ community also suffer from psychological distress as a result of a diagnosis and needing to undergo infertility treatment. It’s crucial that patients with infertility of all backgrounds, genders, and sexual orientations are included in the conversation about infertility and mental health.
For people with infertility, the focus for treatment is predominantly, and understandably, on overcoming the physical causes of infertility such as ovulation disorders, poor egg quality, or low sperm count. However, for the infertility treatment process to be fully comprehensive, it also needs to recognize the emotional distress that infertility causes and include appropriate psychological interventions.
Fertility clinics and other practitioners in this conception space must support the complete well-being of their patients including their mental and physical health.
In this article, we discuss the correlation between infertility and mental health in more detail, exploring the mental health issues that may present themselves in people experiencing infertility. We also explain how Maven supports members with their mental health throughout the infertility treatment process and beyond.
Infertility and mental health risks
Infertility itself causes psychological distress and can result in a range of psychological symptoms. It can make individuals feel anger toward their body’s natural reproductive system and its inability to conceive. It can cause resentment and jealousy toward those who have been able to become parents with relative ease. And it can lead to grieving over the future a person thought they would have.
Negative feelings can also arise throughout IVF treatment or other fertility procedures. Going through an infertility treatment process is hard; there is a lot at stake and the chance of success isn’t always good.
When it comes to infertility and mental health, however, it’s important to remember that everyone’s circumstances are different and how these varied experiences will impact individuals differently too.
In the following sections, we will outline some of the most prevalent mental health risks associated with infertility but keep in mind that these are not an exhaustive list of examples, nor are they confined to one segment of people.
Mental health risks for women experiencing infertility and women undergoing infertility treatment
Approximately 12% of women in childbearing years face difficulty getting pregnant or carrying a baby to term, and 40% struggle with depressive and anxiety disorders. Likewise, research shows that women facing infertility can suffer the same level of anxiety and depression as those with cancer or heart disease.
At the same time, getting support has never been harder. For employees already struggling to navigate fertility treatments while working, finding the energy and time to get mental health support—even from a fertility clinic that offers it—can prove challenging. And now, amidst a worsening shortage of mental health services across the country, finding care is harder, too.
For women with infertility or women undergoing IVF, there are a broad range of mental health risks:
The uncertainty associated with infertility treatments can lead to heightened anxiety. Women may worry about the success of treatments, potential side effects, financial strain, and the overall impact on their lives. Even if a woman is successful in becoming pregnant, anxiety about carrying the pregnancy to term and delivering a healthy baby can persist.
Symptoms of anxiety can include restlessness, irritability, racing thoughts, and physical symptoms such as muscle tension or insomnia. Persistent anxiety can significantly affect overall well-being and can continue to affect a person’s life even if fertility treatment is successful.
A systematic review of published articles found that one in five to more than half of women with infertility can experience depression. Infertility treatments can be emotionally draining and may lead to feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and despair.
The prolonged nature of the fertility journey can contribute to the development of depression. Depressive symptoms may include a persistent low mood, changes in appetite and sleep patterns, feelings of worthlessness, and a loss of interest in activities. Depression can interfere with daily functioning and may exacerbate feelings of isolation and frustration.
The demands of fertility treatments, the pressure to conceive, and the uncertainty of outcomes can contribute to heightened stress levels among female patients. Lifestyle adjustments and the impact on relationships may also be stressors. Stress can manifest itself physically such as with headaches and muscle tension but can also have emotional effects including irritability and difficulty concentrating.
Women experiencing infertility may face societal stigma, which can lead to feelings of inadequacy, shame, and isolation. This in turn can cause self-esteem issues and individuals to withdraw, not wanting to discuss their circumstances, and hinder them from seeking the support they need.
Balancing treatment with work
Juggling fertility treatments with work responsibilities can be stressful. Appointments, procedures, and the emotional toll of treatments may impact a person’s professional life, leading to concerns about job performance and career advancement. Striking a balance between work and infertility treatment can be emotionally and physically taxing, potentially leading to burnout and psychological stress.
The side effects of treatment
Fertility treatments often come with physical side effects, such as hormonal fluctuations, weight changes, and discomfort from procedures. These side effects can contribute to emotional distress and lead to a negative body image. Hormonal changes as a result of fertility drugs may also influence mood and emotional well-being.
Women experiencing infertility may internalize a sense of inadequacy or failure, especially if societal expectations tie womanhood closely to motherhood. The inability to conceive naturally may lead to self-doubt and questions about personal worth.
The physical changes and side effects of treatment may also contribute to shifts in a woman’s body image, potentially leading to feelings of discomfort, frustration, or dissatisfaction with her appearance.
Loss of control
The inability to control fertility outcomes can be emotionally challenging. For example, there are many stages to IVF treatment, with each feeling like a monumental hurdle to overcome, yet women have little power to affect the results.
Women cannot control how their bodies respond to stimulation injections, for instance, and even if egg collection results in many eggs, nothing can be done by the patient afterward to ensure the eggs fertilize successfully. Women may feel a loss of agency over their bodies and reproductive choices, which can erode confidence and self-esteem. Having little influence over the process can also lead to anxiety and a feeling of helplessness.
Mental health risks for men experiencing infertility and men undergoing infertility treatment
Rates of male infertility are rising, with one in 20 men currently facing reduced fertility. For heterosexual couples, male factor infertility is solely responsible in about 20% of cases and is a contributing factor in another 30% to 40% of all infertility cases.
However, the impact of infertility on men's mental health is often overlooked, despite 93% saying that their mental health has been adversely affected by their experience of infertility.
Anxiety and depression
Both men and women experience higher levels of anxiety and depression during in vitro fertilization (IVF) or other treatments compared to the general population. One study found that the overall prevalence of depression in infertile men was 18% while another reported that half of all men diagnosed with infertility experience anxiety. The process of diagnosis can induce anxiety as men undergo various tests to identify potential causes. Uncertainty about the results and the implications for fertility can contribute to heightened anxiety levels.
Many aspects can link infertility and psychological distress in men. For instance, men often feel a strong desire to support their partners emotionally and may experience stress related to concerns about their partner's wellbeing. Witnessing the emotional toll of infertility on a loved one can be distressing.
Fertility treatments can be expensive, and the financial burden associated with medical procedures, medications, and other related costs can be a significant stressor for men, as well as all infertile patients.
In addition, the focus on timed intercourse or assisted reproductive technologies may alter the nature of intimacy in a relationship. This shift can create stress, especially if conception begins to feel like a clinical process.
Shame and emasculation
Men may feel societal and personal pressure to fulfill traditional roles related to masculinity, including the ability to father children and have good virility. Infertility challenges these expectations, leading to feelings of shame and a sense of inadequacy.
Men may feel like they don't meet society's expectations of what makes a man, and this can affect their self-esteem significantly. A global questionnaire study found that one-third of men feel shame, embarrassment, or social stigma about their infertility diagnosis.
Mental health risks for trans and non-binary people experiencing infertility and/or undergoing infertility treatment
Trans and non-binary individuals experiencing infertility or undergoing fertility treatment may face unique mental health challenges due to the intersection of their gender identity and reproductive health.
It’s also important to acknowledge that many people in the LGBTQIA+ community don’t have physiological infertility but still require assisted reproductive technologies to help them become parents. This is sometimes referred to as ‘social infertility’ and can cause psychological distress too due to barriers to accessing treatment.
Trans and non-binary individuals may experience gender dysphoria, a distressing disconnect between one's gender identity and assigned sex at birth. Fertility treatments that involve reproductive organs may exacerbate gender dysphoria and contribute to emotional distress. This can be further fueled by practitioners using gendered language that is inaccurate or exclusionary of the patient.
Some studies discuss the disconnection or alienation that some trans or non-binary individuals may feel from their pregnant body, terming this disembodiment. This disconnection could follow the changes to the body caused by pregnancy following fertility treatment or could be preemptive, anticipating changes throughout treatment.
Assisted conception and perinatal loss can exacerbate these feelings, with patients feeling a loss of control over their bodies, frustration, and shame that their body is not functioning as they want it to.
Isolation and exclusion
Being diagnosed as infertile can make individuals feel lonely and like no one else understands what they are going through, despite infertility affecting millions of people worldwide. LGBTQIA+ individuals, including those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer, can often feel further isolated and excluded from traditional fertility treatments. This sense of isolation can arise from various factors, including heteronormative assumptions, lack of inclusivity in healthcare settings, and societal expectations around family-building.
How Maven helps employees facing infertility
For employers, the gap in mental health support in fertility care poses a risk to employee well-being and productivity. It's also a major opportunity to stand apart by providing employees with a significantly better healthcare and benefits experience. That's where Maven can help, filling in major gaps in traditional approaches to fertility benefits and care.
Maven supports the member's physical, emotional, and financial health, extending far beyond fertility benefit point solutions focused purely on reimbursement. Here are just some of the ways that Maven improves the experience of employees and their partners facing infertility:
1. Care centered on diversity, equity, and inclusion
Maven believes that healthcare, including fertility healthcare, is a fundamental human right and that healthcare provision must be based on diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Our philosophy is grounded in acknowledging every member’s unique situation and background, and recognizing that systemic inequalities based on gender, race, class, geography, or sexual orientation can create barriers to trustworthy care. Our goal is always to operate in a way that empowers our members, providers, and employees to live authentically and without judgment.
2. Personalized care throughout the fertility journey
Every fertility member is assigned a Maven Care Advocate who coordinates their care and provides personalized, empathetic support every step of the way, beginning with care. Maven Care Advocates are trained to assess each member's needs and recommend virtual visits with specialty care providers spanning over 30 different family health specialties, including reproductive endocrinologists, fertility awareness educators, and more. They also provide referrals for high-quality in-person, in-network care.
"My Care Advocate is always so responsive and kind. This is such a deep emotional subject for a couple and having that level of empathy is so important.”
- Maven Fertility member
3. Unlimited access to virtual mental health care
Maven connects Fertility members with specialty care providers, including mental health services such as infertility counseling that understand their unique situations. Mental health providers are the top-booked specialist on Maven's Fertility track.
“My care team on Maven is so professional, compassionate, and responsive. I've met with Reproductive Endocrinologists, Nutritionists, and Mental Health Specialists. My Care Advocate is fantastic. I've gotten answers to my questions within a matter of minutes.”
- Maven Fertility member
4. Access to provider-reviewed content and community support
Maven Care Advocates guide employees and their partners to women's and family health content and virtual classes based on their needs. Every piece of content is reviewed by clinical specialists, and all virtual classes are provider-led. Our community forums are moderated by providers to ensure information shared is clinically sound.
“Almost immediate responses every time, convenient, very helpful, and so many resources. Maven has been a lifesaver in navigating fertility issues but also the emotional support. I can't even explain how important that's been in my journey.”
- Maven Fertility member
5. Care matching and culturally-humble care
Maven offers a diverse network of care providers and can match members with providers of the same background, promoting culturally-humble care and improving health equity. Maven providers work to understand each member's unique life context—what makes them who they are—and apply that insight to provide personalized care that improves the healthcare experience and health outcomes.
"I asked for an African-American therapist, and I think within a day my Care Advocate had a midwife for me to talk to and a therapist. I just felt more comfortable speaking to someone who was African-American, because sometimes I feel like I'm trying to be an advocate for myself and it's just still not working. But I always felt Maven was a safe space for me."
- Maven Maternity member
6. Support for partners and all paths to parenthood
Studies show that stress not only can impact male fertility, but also that relationship quality suffers when a partner is depressed. Partners can access mental health providers through Maven, where they can find emotional support and learning resources for how to help their partner through the fertility journey and beyond. Maven also fully supports the emotional needs of single employees and LGBTQIA+ employees and their partners as they navigate complex and arduous adoption and surrogacy journeys.
7. Ongoing support
The duration and severity of mental disorders and negative feelings do not follow set rules. Mental health fluctuates and emotions rise and fall during different points of an infertility journey. That’s why we have additional programs that support our members in addressing psychological problems that persist or arise after infertility treatment, whether that treatment is successful or not.
We offer maternity and newborn care, helping birthing parents and their partners to navigate the wonderful yet often overwhelming postpartum period, including returning to work. Families can also receive on-demand specialized parent coaching, pediatric care, and special needs support at all stages of their child’s development.
Boost your employee’s fertility benefits and mental health with Maven
A family-focused workplace that supports its employees’ dreams of parenthood through a holistic approach results in a happier, healthier workforce. By providing inclusive fertility and family-building benefits, you can improve loyalty to your organization and deliver better outcomes for all. 90% of Maven members return to work after leave.
“Our employees love Maven! I get very passionate and excited when I talk about benefits—especially one like Maven that's been very successful and embraced by our employees. And Maven has truly been a success story from day one. Our employees are so very appreciative of this program.”
Let Maven help you build a fertility benefits program that truly supports your employees and delivers results for your entire organization. Maven Clinic is the leading global women’s and family healthcare company with a comprehensive fertility & family-building program. Our members have 24/7 access to clinical, emotional, and financial support, giving them the chance to expand their family in a way that’s fully informed and right for them. 40%+ of our Family Building members reported finding emotional support and 25% of fertility members achieve pregnancy without assisted reproductive technology.
Request a demo today to find out how Maven can support your employees with personalized fertility and family-building benefits that recognize mental health as a fundamental component of fertility healthcare.
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