How fertility and mental health are connected

fertility and mental health Apryl
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Having a child is considered the most “normal” thing in the world. But what happens to people who, for whatever reason, cannot “just simply” start a family is hard if not impossible for outsiders to comprehend. 

Here we share the impact that infertility can have on mental health and how you as an employer can support this.

Depression and fertility

For most people, the diagnosis of infertility comes completely out-of-the-blue. This is because people usually do not address their own fertility until family planning does not work out as desired or when a natural pregnancy is not possible, for example, due to biological conditions. 

According to the Harvard Medical School study mentioned above, 50% of women and 15% of men diagnosed with infertility say it is the most distressing experience of their lives. A flood of emotions – shame, doubt, guilt, sadness, helplessness – are often the result and favour the development of depression. 

But the diagnosis of “infertility” is not the only trigger for negative stress. Any bad news that can have far-reaching consequences on family planning promotes depression. This could also be, for example, the rejection of an adoption application. That is why it is important to normalise alternative ways of family planning in addition to the “natural” way of starting a family, and to openly discuss them.

Social isolation

If one’s own family planning is marked by obstacles and setbacks, those affected often find it difficult to get excited about the seemingly effortless creation of a family in their environment. 

Painful and thoughtless questions or advice from people around them, as well as social media posts where one is all too easily exposed to the happiness of others, cause the mental strain to further increase. 

Feelings such as shame, longing, envy and helplessness can’t simply be turned off, and so some couples that have problems with conceiving naturally withdraw from friends, relatives or acquaintances who already have children or are currently expecting a child out of self-protection.

 However, this withdrawal, which is supposed to serve one’s own protection, often has the opposite effect: it promotes loneliness and social isolation, which in turn are enormously dangerous for physical and mental health.

 Since infertility is still a very stigmatised topic that is not dealt with openly in our society, many affected people find it difficult to open up to their environment. At the same time, many relatives and friends are very helpless in communicating appropriately in the light of this news, which can be hurtful and increase the withdrawal. 

In addition, the medical treatments – especially IVF – are extremely demanding, physically and mentally:.The medications can bring significant side effects, and having to inject yourself can be alienating. Plus, there is the nerve-wracking wait for news. Many describe this experience of having to go through all of this pretty much alone as extremely stressful. The emotional range is therefore wide and individual mental support is rarely available.

Partnership strain

Every partnership is put to the test by a difficult family formation. That’s because “partners often deal with involuntary childlessness differently, creating tension within the couple relationship.”

But this tension doesn’t just come from the fact that different personalities react differently to stress. Even with a “normal” course of events, women face disproportionately higher stress levels during family planning – both emotionally and physically. 

If infertility is added to the mix, the physical stress increases heavily and an additional financial component comes into play where, again, women are significantly more burdened than men. This creates an uneven playing field in fertility equality and can lead to friction. 

This phase of life consisting of diagnosis, consultations, (multiple) treatments, possibly failures and long waiting periods is a roller coaster of emotions. Once a couple has decided to undergo medical treatment, dejection is often followed by increased euphoria. But especially during the waiting period between the individual treatment steps, the psychological pressure can increase even further. Therefore, depressive episodes are not uncommon during the therapy phase. 

Different priorities for family planning, unequal financial resources, uncertain success rates, different personalities and social isolation – these are just some of the factors that can cause tension in the partnership and thus promote mental problems.

Financial burden

Fertility treatments do not guarantee success.

Due to the considerable sums involved, which can amount to several thousand euros depending on the individual scope of treatment, a further stress factor is pre-programmed for many couples. In order to minimise the costs, many of those affected initially try less expensive – but also less promising! – methods and thus often lose valuable time. Time that then only leads to even longer-lasting mental stress. 

According to a 2018 study, 40% of respondents who plan to undergo fertility treatments within the next 12 months feel extremely stressed. If people who want to undergo treatment take out a loan to do so, the stress level increases even more significantly due to the debt. Financial stress, in turn, has been shown to lead to chronic (mental) disease.

What can employers do?

The idea that companies should support their employees on their path to parenthood is still seen with skepticism in Europe. No wonder, since family planning is still considered a ‘purely private matter’ by most companies and the concept of employee benefits for fertility & family forming (aka. fertility benefits) is still fairly unknown outside the US. 

There are many reasons for this – Fertility Benefits are relatively new and often not fully understood. However, as society continues to develop, it is becoming increasingly clear that reproductive challenges are affecting more and more people. 15% of the population struggle with infertility and this is also reflected in the utilisation rates of European fertility clinics. Reproductive treatments have become a critical part of our mainstream healthcare system – even though they are usually not included in traditional insurance coverage.

Employers have many options to support employees who take an alternative path to parenthood. These include:

  • De-stigmatising the issue
  • Providing equal opportunities
  • Offering a sound counselling service
  • Providing personalised and flexible solutions

Modern employers understand that infertility is closely linked to the mental health of their workforce and support their employees during this intense and formative time. Our article on the ‘benefits’ of fertility benefits discusses this more.

Apryl is the perfect partner for companies that want to implement fertility benefits in the workplace, and thus individually address both the counselling needs and the financial aspect of family planning. Our friendly team are here anytime to book in a demo or discuss how our leading program can work for your company.

General advice posted on our blog or website or app is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Apryl makes no warranties regarding treatments, coverage, or chances of success.

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