Can infertility cause PTSD?

A diagnosis of infertility can create one of the most stressful and difficult life crises for a couple as they deal with the emotional upheaval, the uncertainty and the many medical decisions and procedures involved.

In fact, infertility counsellors are beginning to view infertility treatment and coping process in line with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). In this article we consider whether infertility can cause PTSD and what to do if this is true for you.

Everyone undergoing infertility treatment experiences intense feelings, as well as emotional ups and downs, and being overwhelmed at times is a perfectly normal response, according to The American Society for Reproductive Medicine.

It lists the following possible symptoms, and where these symptoms persist over a prolonged period of time, patients are encouraged to seek help from a mental health professional:

* loss of interest in usual activities;
* depression that doesn’t lift;
* strained interpersonal relationships;
* difficulty thinking of anything other than your infertility;
* high levels of anxiety;
* diminished ability to accomplish tasks;
* difficulty with concentration;
* change in sleep patterns;
* change in appetite or weight (increase or decrease);
* increased use of drugs or alcohol;
* thoughts about death or suicide;
* social isolation;
* persistent feelings of pessimism, guilt, or worthlessness;
* persistent feelings of bitterness or anger.

While experts have long known that infertility can be an extreme emotional stressor for couples longing for a baby, it wasn’t always considered “traumatic.”

However, researchers are increasingly finding that the experience of infertility can be so stressful that patients undergoing fertility treatments may become distressed enough to develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). For example, in one study, nearly half of all participants met the official criteria for PTSD, a figure that is roughly six times higher than PTSD rates among the general population.

What is PTSD?

Currently, PTSD’s definition is limited having experienced or witnessed a life-threatening event or an event that could cause serious injury.

However, the latest research suggest that emotional injury can also lead to the manifestation of PTSD symptoms for many people.

PTSD changes the way people see themselves, the world and their future. The symptoms of PTSD, such as insomnia, flashbacks, acute anxiety, avoidance and triggers, create significant physical and psychological challenges to manage in addition to the everyday complexities of infertility.

Can infertility result in PTSD?

“The experience of infertility is literally the death of a dream. It can be a painful and difficult state,” says Mandy Rodrigues, our resident psychologist at Medfem Fertility Clinic, who specialises in infertility and has decades of experience in helping couple cope with the stress of their infertility journey.

As Dr Rodrigues explains, for many couples, the reaction to infertility is completely devastating. “It’s like a rollercoaster. The beginning of your cycle is met with hope and expectation, only to be followed by two weeks of anxiety as you wait. The arrival of your period is met with despair, tearfulness and feeling all alone. Then it starts all over again.”

These feelings, says Dr Rodrigues, are pretty much the same as those that accompany PTSD and may include the following:

* Constantly reliving the trauma: you even dream about it and cannot think of anything else.
* Talking about it all the time, or avoiding it completely.
* Struggling to make sense of it.
* Constantly being reminded of it when you see babies in prams, pregnant women and pregnancy announcements and it starts to dominate your life.
* Putting your life on hold: because all your plans and goals revolve around “when I’m pregnant”, you end up focusing on where you will be when you ovulate in the short term, and stalling plans like a new job, a holidays or moving house over the long term.
* Feelings of helplessness, hopelessness and isolation.
* Feeling that you have little control.
* Suffering from anxiety and depression.

These are symptoms similar to the PTSD symptoms that people experience after witnessing or experiencing a life-altering event.

What to do if you experience PTSD symptoms

If you are struggling with any of the above symptoms while you are trying to conceive, seeking professional help can go a long way in helping people cope in the situation.

The expertise and experience of a qualified psychologist that specialises in fertility will enable and empower couples to cope better with the emotional aspect of infertility and its treatment. In fact, working with a professional psychologist during your fertility journey will provide coping skills to help transform this distressing life crisis into a time for positive personal growth.

For this reason, fertility counselling is an important component of fertility treatment at Medfem Fertility Clinic.

How can counselling help?

A professional psychologist with experience in infertility treatment can help a great deal by assisting individuals and couples to learn how to cope with the physical and emotional changes associated with infertility, as well as with the demands of infertility treatment.

A good therapist will assist you in sorting out emotions and feelings, help you to communicate with others more clearly and strengthen already present coping skills while helping you to develop new coping strategies.

For some couples, the focus may be on how to deal with the emotional upheaval, including learning how to control the inevitable stress, anxiety or depression. Patients that are taught problem-solving strategies in a supportive environment are better able to work through their grief, fear and other emotions so that they can find resolution.

For other couples, the focus of counselling may be on how to choose the right fertility treatment or when to begin exploring other family building options. During infertility treatment, couples are regularly faced with making crucial and tough decisions that often involve complex options. For example, you and your partner may be at a treatment crossroad, deciding whether to continue with a certain treatment or to try a different approach; or perhaps you need to choose between different treatment possibilities. It may be that you are considering third party assistance such as egg donation, sperm donation or surrogacy, each of which involve various issues to take into account. Or perhaps you are considering exploring other family building options, such as adoption.

Discussing the various options with a counsellor who has decades of experience with infertility will allow you to explore your feelings about each option; facilitate clarification of your thinking and assist with better decision making.

Where to get help

When the stress of infertility is affecting you, your partner, your relationships and your life, we invite you to come and meet our team of fertility specialists at Medfem Fertility Clinic, including Mandy Rodriques, our resident psychologist who specialises in infertility and has decades of experience in helping couple cope with the stress of their infertility journey.

Medfem Fertility Clinic’s team are committed and understanding team of medical professionals, who have the experience, knowledge and desire to provide you with the best chance of a successful outcome at the end of your treatment.

If you would like to meet one of our fertility specialists, simply click here to book an initial consultation or contact us telephonically on +27 (11) 463 2244. Our Fertility Specialists can also meet with You During a Virtual Consultation Via Zoom or Skype. Click here to book a virtual consultation now.
We look forward to meeting you!


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