Infertility and BIPOC Mental Health

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Struggling to build a family can take a severe toll on anyone’s mental health, but dealing with infertility can be especially isolating for members of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) communities who may experience increased stigma surrounding infertility, as well as a lack of representation and emotional support. Some minority groups may be more likely to experience infertility, for instance, Black women are nearly twice as likely to experience fertility issues compared to White women. However, Black, Native American, and Latina women are also less likely to pursue fertility treatment due to a variety of geographical, financial, and cultural barriers. Once geographical and financial barriers are lifted treatment rates tend to increase, but what about the BIPOC experience throughout treatment?

Social Stigma

Due to a complex combination of cultural factors, infertility can still hold a great deal of shame and stigma across certain communities. In one study, 49 percent of fertility patients were concerned about the social stigma of infertility. Specifically, Black and Chinese women in this study were more concerned about social stigma related to infertility compared to White women. Due to concerns about social stigma, many do not discuss their own experiences with infertility, which can often give BIPOC women and men alike the impression that they are alone in infertility. Combining stigma and isolation, BIPOC patients undergoing fertility treatment may feel incredibly isolated which can have a negative impact on mental wellbeing.

Isolating Experiences

One author, Jared Wright, chronicled several experiences of Black men navigating male factor infertility, as well as the isolation and negative mental health implications that come with it. Wright recounts his own experience with infertility as a Black man, from his first visit to a fertility clinic predominantly filled with white women, to feeling discouraged from confiding in friends and family about his diagnosis. A common thread between each of the experiences these men faced was having little to no support from their friends, family, or the medical community at large. When Wright could not speak with his support system about his infertility diagnosis, he turned to the internet and was met with a dearth of research and resources for Black men dealing with infertility. Without adequate support and resources through an already difficult infertility journey, BIPOC men and women may experience additional struggles when it comes to their mental health.

Mental Health Implications

Unfortunately, there are still stigmas surrounding not only infertility, but mental health issues as well. This fact is especially distressing because people coping with infertility are at greater risk for anxiety, depression, and grief. According to one study, 26% of women and 9% of men undergoing fertility treatment met the criteria for major depressive disorder. Research shows that patients who are most in need of professional psychological support are those who come from sociocultural communities that stigmatize infertility, indicating that BIPOC patients often require more mental health support throughout fertility treatment to counteract the stigma and isolation they may face. Otherwise, the combined effect of struggling with infertility in general, the emotional toll of treatment, the isolation from stigma, and the lack of resources to help through the journey can have a profoundly negative impact on mental health.

So, how can we fix it? It won’t happen overnight, but reducing stigma surrounding infertility through education, awareness, and diverse representation could reduce feelings of shame and isolation in those struggling to conceive, which can lessen the psychological burden to a degree. Ultimately, by increasing access to reproductive behavioral health experts, people can get the mental health support they need no matter who they are or what their fertility journey entails.

Click here to learn more about how WIN’s comprehensive reproductive behavioral health program provides patients with one-on-one mental health support.