The impact of fertility on mental health

No road to becoming a parent is easy; it’s even harder when fertility issues come into play. But without first-hand experience, it can be difficult to understand just how much they can affect an individual or couple’s sense of well-being — especially when it comes to mental health. To illustrate the impact: research shows that the depression levels in patients with infertility are comparable to patients who have been diagnosed with cancer. It’s important to pay close attention to the areas of people’s infertility journeys that have the potential to trigger mental health issues.

Unexpected obstacles

Receiving unexpected news, such as an infertility diagnosis, can be truly devastating. One study found that half of women and 15% of men said that infertility was the most upsetting experience of their lives. Not only does it make the pursuit of parenthood that much more overwhelming, but it can also trigger a flood of emotions — shame, guilt, and low self-esteem. These emotions, in turn, may eventually lead to varying degrees of depression and anxiety

However, it’s not only infertility diagnoses that are stressful. Receiving any kind of disappointing news that poses challenges to people’s family-forming journeys — like hearing that an adoption fell through or that the required paperwork for a gestational carrier service wasn’t approved — can also be incredibly challenging. 

Social isolation 

When an individual or couple is struggling to start a family, it can be painful to hear about other people’s successful pregnancies or adoptions. Given that we live in a digital age where social media makes these types of announcements highly visible, people may end up self-isolating in an effort to protect themselves. While this may not immediately seem like it would affect one’s mental or physical health, studies have found that loneliness and social isolation are linked with higher rates of health issues including heart disease, depression, and cognitive decline.

People may also experience feelings of isolation if they believe nobody else understands or can empathize with their situation. This is especially common for those going through the IVF process. From the side effects of infertility medications (which can include depression, hot flashes, nausea, and more) to self-administering injections and the anxiety of waiting for news, the process can cultivate a variety of emotions for those going through it.

Relationship strain

It’s difficult to keep frustrations from spilling over into other aspects of your life. That’s especially true with obstacles related to fertility, adoption, and working with a gestational carrier, which can feel all-encompassing and have been associated with marital problems and conflicts. This stress can stem from a number of specific factors: the increased number of doctor’s appointments, financial stress, the pressure to get pregnant, feelings of resentment toward your partner, and more. 

Unfortunately, these emotions can build up and eventually lead to more serious mental health concerns. These negative social interactions with partners and spouses can increase the risk of depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation. Similarly, other studies found that a lower-quality relationship is more likely to lead to depressive symptoms in both same-sex and heterosexual couples and make people more susceptible to psychiatric disorders

However, there’s a silver lining. Relationship counseling is often helpful when it comes to navigating these complex emotions and hurdles. And, while stressful, many couples have said that going through infertility together ultimately led to a closer relationship with their partner in the end.  

Financial stress

Pursuing any road to parenthood can be financially taxing — especially without any support through employer-sponsored benefits —and can, in turn, impact stress levels. And it’s no surprise why — the cost of most procedures are in the tens of thousands of dollars and are frequently paid out-of-pocket.

Financial stress is known to lead to chronic health disorders, resulting in productivity losses that cost the American economy $450 to $550 billion annually. Even worse, if any of these treatments or services put people in debt, the likelihood of having a mental health issue becomes three times higher. Understanding the costs in advance and setting aside savings specifically for fertility treatments can significantly mitigate the amount of financial stress. 

How companies can support employees pursuing parenthood

Given that people spend the majority of their time in the workplace, employers can play a huge role in supporting the mental health needs of their employees. Since fertility problems can affect anyone, there’s a high likelihood that most workplaces — including yours — have employees who are struggling with these issues and need your support. Here are a few ideas on how to help: 

Provide fertility benefits

The best way to address the mental health concerns that come along with trying to become a parent is to offer the right support along the way. Fertility benefits are one way to do that. The right vendor can help your employees navigate starting fertility treatments, going through the legal complexities of adoption or using a gestational carrier, and more.

They can also help relieve the financial burden — with the right benefits, your employees can breathe a bit easier knowing they won’t have to dip into their savings or go into debt to pursue parenthood. And if your fertility benefits vendor provides care navigation, your employees will likely have access to counselors and others who can help deal with emotional and mental stress instead of having to go through the process alone. 

Offer mental health resources

From offering counseling services under your health insurance to any form of Employee Assistance Program (EAP) or a standalone digital health solution like Lyra or Modern Health, there are a number of ways employers can improve access to mental health support for their employees. Employers can also offer support through flexible work schedules. This gives employees the ability to work around their appointments and other fertility-related needs without worrying about what time they need to be at the office. 

Prioritizing and building a supportive company culture can also go a long way, too. Employers may want to consider investing in training sessions or other resources for teams so they can better understand the journey and learn to speak more empathetically about fertility-related issues. Carrot’s language guide may be a helpful resource to get started

Understand the different fertility journeys

It’s important to recognize that everyone’s path to starting a family is unique. This means that the type of support you offer should be personalized to what your employee is specifically experiencing. That’s why we recently published a three-part blog series that shares how to support employees dealing with issues specifically related to fertility, adoption, and gestational carrier services. Supporting each of these types of journeys often isn’t complicated and can go a long way in making employees feel comfortable.

Making investments in the mental health of employees who are struggling with fertility issues can have a significant huge impact not only on the well-being of your workforce, but also on the overall company culture and morale of your team. If you’re interested in learning more about Carrot and how we can support your employees’ fertility care needs, let us know.

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