Infertility is a common problem for many women. In fact, according to the CDC, about one in five heterosexual women between the 15 and 49 are unable to conceive after trying for a year.
Stress and depression are common when a woman is struggling to get pregnant. And now, researchers are discovering that infertility can also have a negative impact on mental health later in life.
In a study presented at the American Society for Reproductive Medicine’s annual meeting (as reported by MedPage Today), the results showed that middle-aged women who had experienced infertility had increased risks for depression and anxiety.
Infertility And Its Link To Mental Health
In essence, researchers found that women who had reported infertility issues were more likely to develop depressive symptoms before menopause. Women who were “involuntarily childless” and unable to have children at all were at an even higher risk. Additionally, both groups of women had an increased risk of anxiety during the menopausal transition phase.
Researchers relied on data from the Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation (SWAN)—a long-term research project examining the health of women in their middle years.
The 3,061 study participants were aged 42 to 52, were not pregnant or receiving hormone therapy, and had had at least one menstrual period in the previous 90 days. Out of the entire study population, 600 participants had reportedly experienced fertility issues and 127 were involuntarily childless.
After a baseline visit, each patient returned for 16 follow-up visits to assess their physical and mental condition. Researchers also documented where participants were in their menopausal stage. Findings were then adjusted based on variables including the use of oral contraceptives, insurance, education, race, marital status, and ethnicity.
The most significant finding was the increased risk for depression and anxiety in midlife women who had infertility issues. When it came to increased risks for physical issues before or during menopause, such as hot flashes or vaginal symptoms, the differences among all women assessed were not significant.
Key Takeaways Of The Study
One of the study authors, Dr. Victoria Fitz, told MedPage Today that these findings indicate that OB/GYN providers and primary care physicians should consider screening midlife patients who have experienced infertility for depression.
“I don’t think I’ve thought of infertility as signaling a reason to give someone a full depression screening,” Fitz noted. “It could be viewed as a risk factor if it is confirmed in more studies.”
Fitz did note a few limitations of the study. For starters, the classification as infertile or involuntarily childless was based solely on self-reported data from study participants. Additionally, researchers did not have access to more information on what may have caused infertility in those patients.
For future research, Fitz was interested in looking into women who had tried reproductive technologies, such as IVF, as well as more closely examining the causes of infertility to get a clear picture of how that might play into increased risks for anxiety and depression.
And while not noted, with the current political atmosphere around reproductive health, issues surrounding anxiety and depression are sure to get even more complicated.
Dealing with infertility issues is never easy, even after the decision to stop trying. Being aware of the possible mental health risks and reaching out for professional advice can hopefully help mitigate future mental health issues as we deal with all the other changes midlife brings.