Infertility can cause distress, and many people experience bouts of stress, sadness, or feelings of hopelessness. Sometimes, infertility can lead to depression.

Research from 2015 found a high prevalence of major depressive disorder in people receiving infertility treatment. Studies suggest that people with fertility problems face higher stress levels than those without, and those with depression may be less likely to seek help for infertility.

In this article, learn more about infertility and depression, as well as the symptoms and treatment options.

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While doctors have long understood that infertility is a medical problem, many people with infertility still experience shame and secrecy. This can make it difficult to seek help from friends and family.

Not getting pregnant after trying for a prolonged period can be profoundly disappointing and frustrating, especially without support from loved ones.

Research suggests that people with depression may be less likely to seek treatment for infertility.

Many people with fertility issues can have a child after treatment, such as in vitro fertilization (IVF). However, many experience anxiety about whether the treatment will work, which can also undermine their mental health.

Some of the reasons people with infertility experience depression include:

  • Stress. Infertility can be a stressful experience. Some research suggests that stress may impact the likelihood of conceiving, although there is not enough evidence to confirm a causative link.
  • Medical conditions. Some medical issues affecting fertility, such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), may also increase the risk of depression. Research suggests that depression and anxiety may be three times higher in people with PCOS than those without.
  • The emotional and physical challenges of treatment. A small 2014 trial of women seeking infertility treatment or fertility-preserving services found that their anxiety and depression worsened as treatment progressed.
  • Treatment side effects. According to research, some fertility treatments contain hormones that can affect a person’s mood, increasing the risk of depression.

Anyone can experience depression because of infertility.

Learn more about fertility drugs for women here.

It is not unusual to feel sad or even depressed occasionally. However, when these feelings persist over time and affect a person’s quality of life, they may be experiencing depression.

A person may receive a diagnosis of depression if they experience some of the following symptoms every day for 2 weeks or longer:

  • sadness, emptiness, hopelessness
  • anxiety, irritability, agitation, or frustration
  • feelings of worthlessness, guilt, or shame
  • a loss of interest in most activities, even those they usually enjoy
  • low energy levels or fatigue
  • feeling worthless, guilty, or ashamed
  • unexplained changes in appetite or weight
  • sleeping more or less than usual
  • trouble thinking clearly or concentrating
  • unexplained aches, pains, and other physical symptoms
  • thoughts of death or suicide

A doctor may recommend counseling, where a person can explore the reasons for depression and ways to address it. If the person has concerns about fertility, a specialist fertility counselor may be able to help.

Learn more about the common signs of depression here.

Suicide prevention

If you know someone at immediate risk of self-harm, suicide, or hurting another person:

  • Ask the tough question: “Are you considering suicide?”
  • Listen to the person without judgment.
  • Call 911 or the local emergency number, or text TALK to 741741 to communicate with a trained crisis counselor.
  • Stay with the person until professional help arrives.
  • Try to remove any weapons, medications, or other potentially harmful objects.

If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, a prevention hotline can help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24 hours a day at 988. During a crisis, people who are hard of hearing can use their preferred relay service or dial 711 then 988.

Click here for more links and local resources.

People with infertility who experience depression should seek treatment for both conditions. While infertility might cause depression, there may be other factors. If a person has an underlying mental health problem, this, too, will need treatment.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people unable to get pregnant after trying for 12 months or longer should consider talking with a doctor about infertility.

However, those over the age of 35 should see a doctor if they have been unable to get pregnant after 6 months of trying. Couples with a history of infertility, women with irregular periods, and people with chronic medical issues, such as diabetes, should see a doctor before they begin trying to get pregnant.

A family doctor may refer males to a urologist and females to a gynecologist. Sometimes, a doctor will refer someone to a reproductive endocrinologist or another infertility specialist.

If depression makes it difficult for a person to function in daily life or makes it harder to seek infertility treatment, they would benefit from seeking medical help.

The hopelessness of depression can make people think that treatment will not work. However, this may also be a symptom of depression. Treatment can and often does alleviate symptoms of depression and improve a person’s quality of life.

Learn how depression affects the body here.

There are many medications available that can treat depression, including antidepressants.

Types of antidepressants include:

Some people may need to try several different medications before they find one that works well for them. Being honest with a doctor about any side effects is essential, as the doctor may be able to change the dose or type of medication.

Talking therapy can also help treat depression. It can provide a space to discuss feelings about infertility, set goals, and, if necessary, identify strategies for improving relationships with partners. Some couples find that infertility affects their relationship, so attending counseling together may also help.

A combination of medication and counseling may offer the best treatment outcomes. Eating a nutritious diet and getting regular exercise are also important.

When dealing with fertility issues, it is understandable why some people focus solely on getting pregnant. However, this focus can result in neglecting other aspects of the relationship. Some couples find that a new hobby or shared activity can help.

Learn more about treating and curing depression here.

Although infertility is widespread, it can feel isolating. According to the CDC, up to 26% of females aged 15–44 have difficulty conceiving or carrying a pregnancy to full term. With treatment, however, many people go on to have successful pregnancies and deliveries.

Finding support from other people with similar experiences can help. They can offer resources for managing stress, keeping a relationship functioning well, and reassuring individuals that they are not alone.

The National Infertility Association RESOLVE can help people find a local support group. Online groups, such as private Facebook groups and fertility message boards, can also offer support.