Infertility is a common problem in the U.S. About 10 percent of women ages 15-44 (6.1 million) have difficulty getting pregnant or staying pregnant to deliver a healthy baby, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And it’s not just a woman’s issue, and it’s not in her head.
One third of infertility cases are caused by women’s physiological problems, one third by men’s physiological problems, and 10 percent or more by a combination of men’s and women’s. The causes in the remaining cases are unknown.
Emotional Toll of Infertility
Struggling with infertility causes many painful emotions, including grief, guilt, anxiety and depression. When couples unexpectedly have trouble conceiving, they experience what may be their first life crisis together. Both women and men are grappling with the loss of control over their lives and the feelings of grief and frustration that accompany that. For women, the stress of fertility treatment and the side effects of fertility medications can take a huge psychological toll. One study of 488 American women who answered a standard psychological questionnaire before going through a stress reduction program found that infertility patients felt as anxious or depressed as cancer patients or patients recovering from a heart attack. Another study found that 40% of women exhibited significant symptoms of depression and anxiety at their first appointment and this number only increased as their treatment progressed and became more complicated.
Effects on Productivity
Everyone experiences sadness or grief from time to time, but major depression is more than that. It’s a mood disorder that doesn’t go away in a few days, with symptoms such as overwhelming sadness, low energy, loss of appetite, irritability and lack of interest in things that used to be enjoyed. Depression can even lead to serious health complications and suicidal thoughts.
Depression is estimated to cost the U.S. more than $30 billion annually in lost productivity. Workers with depression reported significantly more lost productive time than workers who weren’t depressed, as shown in a 2006 study. Another study found that depression symptoms are related to work absences and impaired work performance, and that on-the-job stress can contribute to this.
Nearly 8% of Americans over age 12 have recently been depressed, but the vast majority do not get treatment. This happens for a number of reasons: lack of insurance coverage for mental health treatment, out-of-pocket cost, lack of access to mental health professionals, and stigma attached to mental illness.
If a patient is experiencing symptoms of depression, it’s important to reach out for help. There are therapists, who work with fertility patients, that can help ease the burden, even when things feel hopeless. Improving a patients quality of life while going through fertility treatment is possible.