Infertility otherwise known as the inability to conceive a child, is very often emotionally painful. In some cases, infertility may lead to prolonged bouts of sadness, anger or resentment that can be as intense as the grief of losing a living child. Those experiencing fertility issues may find it helpful to seek counseling services. Often women have an easier time reaching out for support. Men historically have a more challenging time reaching outside their circle for help. This is especially true in the realm of fertility.
What happens when men are diagnosed with infertility? One study reported that 50% of all men diagnosed with infertility experience anxiety (Fisher & Hammarberg, 2012). Often a diagnosis of male-factor infertility can negatively impact men’s mental health. When men who are members of an infertile couple or have unexplained infertility report experiencing negative mental health outcomes. This can include increased levels of stress and depression (Peronace et al., 2007).
In many cultures, society associates men with virility and masculinity as concluded in Terziogul’s (2007) study. Often across the world, there is a stigma attached to male infertility in most cultures. Terziogulu (2007), went on to report that when men are diagnosed with infertility their identity can be threatened. Men may try to learn to live with their suffering by denying it.
Volgsten, Svanberg and Olsssun’s (2010) qualitative study contradicted Terziogul’s (2007) findings and found in their study, unlike women, men do not blame themselves for being childless and did not report experiencing similar negative feelings of like women did. One reason that could be found for this concluded Volgsten, Svanberg and Olsson, (2010) is that often men pushed down their feelings because of their wife’s emotional negative reactions. Despite their own feelings, men were found in the study to be more concerned for their wives and their depressive state as the road to having a child comes to an end.
Volgsten, Zvanberg, and Olsson’s (2010) qualitative study continued to say though men appear to have initial similar psychological distress related to childlessness, it was found that they had even greater distress due to interactions with their spouses and identified that their sexual relationship was unsatisfactory during and after the infertility treatments. This was further enhanced by their wives’ depression and lowered self-esteem triggered by unsuccessful attempts at having a pregnancy resulting in a child.
While both women and men can experience depression, symptoms can differ. It is important to take note of changes in behaviors, acting out or overall mood.
Depression in Men:
Men of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds can have various symptoms or expressions of depression. Most common though, depression symptoms include:
- Anger, irritability, or aggressiveness
- Feeling anxious, restless, or “on the edge”
- Loss of interest in work, family, or once-pleasurable activities
- Problems with sexual desire and performance
- Feeling sad, “empty,” flat, or hopeless
- Not being able to concentrate or remember details
- Feeling very tired, not being able to sleep, or sleeping too much
- Overeating or not wanting to eat at all
- Thoughts of suicide or suicide attempts
- Physical aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems
- Inability to meet the responsibilities of work, caring for family, or other important activities
- Engaging in high-risk activities
- A need for alcohol or drugs
- Withdrawing from family and friends or becoming isolated
When a couple is affected by fertility issues, couples therapy can improve relationship through communication. Counseling sessions may help make it easier for the couple to make decisions around fertility treatments that work for both partners. It is not uncommon for partners to disagree about the best course of treatment. Sometimes one partner may feel hesitant to seek outside medical interventions and help. As a trained family therapist can help a couple navigate these concerns. Therapy may also be helpful place to discuss how long infertility treatments should be pursued or the amount of money partners are willing to spend on fertility treatments. Sometimes it is hard to discuss fertility issues with family and friends. Your support circle can feel small and even isolating. With a trained mental health professional, you will receive care and understanding at a time when you most likely need it the most.