By Thrive Reno’s Director of Perinatal Psychiatry, Andrea Thompson, APRN, FNP-C, PMHNP-BC
THE MENTAL HEALTH IMPLICATIONS OF INFERTILITY
Trying to become pregnant can evoke a rollercoaster of emotions for both male and female partners. When individuals struggle to become pregnant, their mental and emotional health may deteriorate. In the United States, 19% of heterosexual women aged 15 to 49 years with no prior births experience infertility, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC). As their wish for a child goes unfulfilled, these individuals and their partners may face mental health conditions including stress, anxiety, and depression, which can manifest as feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, irritability, racing thoughts, and trouble sleeping. If they do end up conceiving a baby, these parents may also encounter an increased risk for perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMADs) following their prior challenges.
In addition to anxiety, depression, and PMADs, infertility has been associated with:
- Relationship problems: Couples may struggle with difficulty communicating about the obstacle of infertility, a loss of connection, and sexual dysfunction.
- Self-isolation: Those experiencing infertility may consider their struggle too personal to seek solace from their loved ones and instead withdraw from those around them.
- Sense of loss: Naturally allowing themselves to hope amid their pregnancy attempts, individuals may experience a severe sense of loss if their efforts aren’t successful.
- Stigma: Although infertility is prevalent, it’s not typically addressed in normal conversation. Many individuals who experience infertility may feel that those around them don’t understand the struggle. The stigma around infertility can foster a sense of secrecy and shame in those affected.
- Diminished self-esteem: Individuals struggling to become pregnant may experience a loss of identity and self-regard as they grapple with mistaken feelings that something is wrong with them.
SUPPORT FOR THOSE STRUGGLING WITH INFERTILITY AND MENTAL HEALTH
Mental health treatment for those struggling to start a family should address any symptoms with special consideration of the unique stressors of infertility. Those experiencing mental health concerns related to infertility may benefit from individual therapy, couple’s therapy, and medication management. Additionally, support groups can provide comfort by connecting individuals to others facing similar circumstances. Whether therapeutic, psychiatric, or community-based in nature, seeking mental health care when challenged with infertility can allow individuals and partners to feel understood while providing them with coping strategies as they navigate their experiences. Additionally, stress-reducing self-care strategies, such as mindfulness, meditation, movement, and taking part in other activities one enjoys can help promote mental and emotional wellness.
SPECIALIZED INFERTILITY MENTAL HEALTH SUPPORT AT THRIVE
As a mother who has experienced infertility, specifically infertility after the birth of a child, I know how incredibly isolating and stressful it can be. Because of my background in perinatal psychiatry, I also knew that my struggle with infertility placed me at an increased risk for perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. To better support myself as a person, parent, and practitioner, I was sure to seek specialized mental health support throughout my journey.
Thrive’s perinatal mental health specialists understand that infertility is different for every individual. Our team can provide targeted treatment that focuses on the root of your mental health struggle while compassionately supporting you through your fertility journey. You’ll also have the opportunity to be connected to our healing community of supportive individuals facing fertility and perinatal challenges. If you’re struggling with mental health due to infertility, reach out to learn more about our outpatient therapy and psychiatry.
About the Author
Andrea Thompson, APRN, FNP-C, PMHNP-BC — Thrive Reno’s Director of Perinatal Psychiatry
Andrea Thompson, APRN, FNP-C, PMHNP-BC is a Nurse Practitioner whose background has stemmed in primary care, primarily working with under-served and under-insured populations. After several years in family practice, she completed a Post Master’s certification as a Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner. In early 2019, she started a program the first of its kind in Northern Nevada to integrate mental health services into a women’s health/OBGYN practice where she had a focus on perinatal mood and anxiety disorder diagnosis and treatment which solidified her passion for Perinatal/Reproductive Psychiatry. She has also completed certificate training with Postpartum Support International. As a postpartum depression survivor herself, she has a passion for helping other women throughout their journey to mental wellness. She and her husband moved to the Reno area several years ago from Seattle, WA to settle into a place to raise their family; they have three young boys. Aside from spending time with her family outdoors, Andrea is also active in the efforts to improve the sexual health education offered to the youth in our community as well as advocating at the state level to support Nurse Practitioner autonomy and Maternal Mental Health.