Cape Fertility’s Message on World Mental Health Day


#WorldMentalHealthDay is an opportunity to collectively envision a world in which mental health is valued, promoted and protected; where everyone has an equal opportunity to enjoy mental health and to exercise their human rights; and where everyone can access the mental health care they need.


At Cape Fertility, we understand the significant impact that infertility can have on the mental health of a couple. This year on World Mental Health Day, we are proud to add our voices to raise awareness of mental health issues, particularly those related to infertility.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), an estimated one in eight people globally were living with a mental disorder before the pandemic in 2019. COVID-19 created a global crisis for mental health, fuelling short- and long-term stresses and undermining the mental health of millions. Estimates put the rise in both anxiety and depressive disorders at more than 25% during the first year of the pandemic. At the same time, the already-limited services, skills and funding available for mental health have been further severely disrupted and the treatment gap for mental health conditions has widened.

The theme of this year’s #WorldMentalHealthDay is “Make mental health & well-being for all a global priority”. The objective is to increase awareness about which preventive mental health interventions work and how stigma and discrimination continue to be a barrier to social inclusion and access to the right care.

Mental health and infertility

With one in six couples worldwide facing infertility, the mental health risks of infertility are a global concern.

According to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) the struggle with infertility can result in negative thoughts and feelings such as denial, guilt, anger, grief and isolation, which can lead to actual withdrawal from usually enjoyable activities, especially those involving families or children – through to a formal diagnosis of mental health disorders.

ASRM says that the risk factors contributing to infertility include an existing diagnosis of depression or anxiety disorder, lower levels of happiness and poor overall health. On the other hand, strong mental health – self-acceptance, independence, positive relationships and social skills, personal growth and a sense of meaning in life – contribute to better outcomes of fertility treatment.

This supports the importance of diagnosis and treatment of infertility being approached holistically, taking into account both biological and psychological factors. Psychological assessment before commencing with infertility treatments is crucial to understand each patient’s individual risk factors, strengths and psychological resilience or vulnerability, and a collaborative approach to treatment that includes ongoing psychological support or psychotherapy.

This approach, says ASRM, would assist with the negative effects on mental well-being of infertility and the stresses of the treatment journey, because infertility patients are more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety and social withdrawal.

In managing mental health as part of infertility treatment, education is imperative. ASRM asserts that the more information available, the better the understanding of the basic principles of human reproduction and infertility, resulting in the less uncertainty, which contributes to anxiety. Knowledge helps to manage expectations and to remain realistically hopeful. Healthcare teams should also look out for the psychiatric side-effects of some medications used for infertility treatment. Similarly, antidepressant medication can influence fertility treatment, and this emphasises the need for a collaborative approach to infertility treatment that focuses as much on mental health as physical health.

Why Infertility Counselling and Support is Vital

Infertility is a medical condition that touches all aspects of your life.

It may affect your relationships with others, your perspective on life, and how you feel about yourself.

How you deal with these feelings will depend on your personality and life experiences. Most people can benefit from the support of family, friends, medical caregivers, and mental health professionals.

However, according to ASRM, if you are facing infertility and are feeling depressed, anxious, or so preoccupied with your infertility that you feel it is hard to live your life productively, you may benefit a great deal counselling.

Signs that you might benefit from counselling include:

* persistent feelings of sadness, guilt, or worthlessness
* social isolation
* loss of interest in usual activities and relationships
* depression
* agitation and/or anxiety
* mood swings
* constant preoccupation with infertility
* marital problems
* difficulty with “scheduled” intercourse
* difficulty concentrating and/or remembering
* increased use of alcohol or drugs
* a change in appetite, weight, or sleep patterns
* thoughts about suicide or death

Individual and couple counselling offer the chance to talk with an experienced professional to sort out your feelings, identify coping mechanisms, and work to find solutions to your difficulties. Support groups and informational meetings can reduce the feeling of isolation and provide opportunities to learn and share with others experiencing infertility.

ASRM also highlights certain points during infertility treatment when discussion with a mental health professional can be very helpful.

For example, when you are considering various treatment options, understanding the procedures and exploring your feelings about these options can help facilitate clarification of your thinking and help with your decision making.

A consultation with a mental health professional may also be helpful to you and your partner if you are:

* deciding between alternative treatment possibilities
* exploring other family building options
* considering third party assistance (gamete donation, surrogacy)
* having difficulty communicating or if you have different ideas about what direction to take.

Everyone has feelings and emotional ups and downs as they pursue infertility treatment. Feeling overwhelmed at times is a perfectly normal response.

By teaching patients problem-solving strategies in a supportive environment, mental health professionals help people work through their grief, fear, and other emotions, so that they can find resolution of their infertility.

A good counsellor can help you sort out feelings, strengthen already present coping skills and develop new ones, and communicate with others more clearly. For many, the life crisis of infertility eventually proves to be an opportunity for life-enhancing personal growth.

Infertility Counselling and Support at Cape Fertility

At Cape Fertility, we know that your journey of fertility treatment involves the psychological as well as the medical, the emotional as well as the physical, the mind and the body.

Our team is committed to ensuring that all these aspects of your well-being are met. For this reason, our team includes our onsite psychologist who has a special interest in fertility-related counselling.

Leanne van der Westhuizen is our Cape Fertility’s Clinical Psychologist, who trained at the University of Cape Town (UCT) and the University of Stellenbosch, where she graduated Cum Laude.
The psychological services provided include couple counselling, stress-management, infertility-related counselling, assessment and evaluation, for example in a surrogate pregnancy, and psycho-education. The aim of the counselling is to help patients reduce the level of stress associated with treatment and infertility.

Research has shown that the most stressful moments during the IVF process are the days leading up to retrieval, waiting for pregnancy results, dealing with an unsuccessful cycle and decision making regarding next steps. Even a positive pregnancy test can cause anxious feelings at the same time as the excitement!

Specific counselling strategies have been designed to help our patients cope with these stages of treatment. In addition, counselling can facilitate coping with the overwhelming feelings of sadness, anger or blame, and address the short- and long-term implications of having children with donated gametes or other alternatives to natural conception.

If infertility is affecting your and your partner’s mental health, we invite you to arrange an initial consultation with our counselling psychologist – it is as simple as contacting us here...