We are increasingly aware of the importance of caring for our mental as well as our physical health. But the devastating impact infertility can have on mental wellbeing is often underestimated. Not being able to get pregnant when you are longing for a family can be a devastating experience, dominating every area of life and leaving fertility patients feeling lonely and isolated, cut off from friends and family.
Respondents to a survey on the impact of fertility problems, by Middlesex University and patient charity Fertility Network UK, reported experiencing high levels of distress and feeling sad, frustrated and out of control nearly all the time.
Tearfulness, feelings of stress, inadequacy, anger, despair, shame and guilt were all common responses.
Many said their confidence, concentration and sex drive had been negatively affected. Even more worryingly, 42 per cent of those who took part said they had experienced suicidal feelings.
It is clear that thinking about the emotional wellbeing of fertility patients should be a vital part of care pathways. Many of those affected by infertility have to face up to the loss of the future life they may have imagined ever since they were children themselves and this often results in feelings of grief.
Lack of support for those struggling
Emotional support can make all the difference to those going through fertility tests and treatment, and counselling should be available at all licensed fertility clinics in the UK. It is worth seeking out the fertility counselling provided by members of the British Infertility Counselling Association, who have specialist training and are experienced in supporting fertility patients. Although counselling is on offer at IVF clinics, not everyone chooses to take it up, and there are some less formalised sources of support available.
One of the difficulties for people affected by infertility is finding reliable advice and support. There is certainly no shortage of information online, but finding help which is trustworthy can be a challenge. This in itself causes stress and uncertainty, and a survey carried out last year for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists revealed that a majority of women were finding fertility advice contradictory and confusing, and they were often overwhelmed by the sheer volume of advice and information available.
The patient charity Fertility Network UK offers reliable information and support, from factsheets about fertility problems and treatments to peer support networks across the country. Meeting other people who have had similar difficulties can make all the difference to how you handle fertility problems. But as not everyone feels able to talk openly about infertility, it may be hard to find others who are struggling to conceive.
How Fertility Network UK can help
Fertility Network UK groups provide a unique opportunity to meet up with others, share experiences and provide mutual peer support. There are groups that meet up in person and virtual support online too. Just being with others who really understand how you feel can be positive and reassuring for anyone having difficulty getting pregnant.
For those wanting more professional support, Fertility Network UK offers a dedicated support line staffed by a qualified fertility nurse who is available three days a week to answer queries. The charity also runs regular free online webinars. Each session provides impartial help, support and understanding about a relevant topic and past sessions are all available to watch on the Fertility Network website.
When you know where to find the right support, the emotional challenges of fertility problems and treatment can feel more bearable. Being able to access friendship and support through the national patient charity can make all the difference to the patient journey.