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Trying to become a dad can be tricky. We’ve tips on keeping an eye on your mental health through a stressful process and where to get support courtesy of Fertility Family
For too long, the subjects of fertility and infertility have been taboo, especially for men. We might not even realise it, but our awkwardness and reluctance around these subjects continue to foster a culture where people are afraid to open up to others.
It’s estimated that approximately 1 in 7 couples will have difficulty conceiving. For men, this can be a truly challenging time. Unhealthy stereotypes around fertility and masculinity can become detrimental to health as well as being wildly inaccurate. Men generally don’t discuss fertility problems, which leads to an assumption that they only ever happen to other people – furthering the silence around the subject and isolating men who do experience them.
Fertility issues impact both physical and emotional wellbeing. Of people who experience them, 90% have depression symptoms of some kind. A shocking 42% report suicidal thoughts. When prominent social media personalities share their stories, as John Legend recently did, it helps to open up the discussion a little bit more. But many men continue to suffer in silence.
Kate Davies is Fertility Nurse Consultant at YourFertilityJourney.com. Dennis Relojo-Howell is founder of psychology website ‘Psychreg’ and member of the British Psychological Society. For fertility supplement company Fertility Family they answer some of the most common questions asked by people struggling with fertility and also reveal how to find support for the psychological impact this can have, especially during lockdown.
The close links between infertility and mental health might surprise you. Dennis Relojo-Howell says: “There is a bidirectional relationship between infertility and mental health disorders. Studies have demonstrated that infertility can lead to depression and anxiety. Patients can also experience stigma and reduced self-esteem. The same is also true for those with mental health issues; they are at risk of developing infertility”.
1. Be open with your partner
Men can really struggle to open up and talk honestly about many problems, and infertility is one of the biggest. This is beginning to change. But make sure that you have frank and open discussions with your partner and encourage feelings to be shared.
Not sure where to begin? There are resources that can help you to express how you’re feeling. The Easy Bit is a short film of six men telling their stories openly and honestly to encourage other men to talk. Recently, reality TV star Chris Hughes raised awareness of testicular cancer and fertility in the documentary Me, My Brother and Our Balls. Social media groups like Male Fertility Support also allow men to safely discuss their feelings in a male-only environment.
The rise of social media fertility influencers is helping to remove the stigma and taboo and get people talking like never before, but for men in particular there’s still a long way to go to really making a difference.
2. Talk to your family and friends – don’t believe in ‘taboo’
Talking frankly and openly about things we consider taboos is the only way to break them. It’s only once you’ve started to talk about a topic that you can start to uncover the support system around you that’s willing to help.
Stigma and taboo still play a huge part in the link between infertility and mental health problems. This is especially clear when it comes to problems like low sperm count, male tube damage and a couples pregnancy loss. Recent research showed that the tendency is not to talk about early pregnancy loss at all – especially in the first 12 weeks when people have not revealed to those close to them that they are pregnant.
The idea that you shouldn’t talk about pregnancies until after 12 weeks is, unfortunately, serving only to silence both men and women further, making it more difficult to get the help they need.
3. Remember you’re not alone
The staggering statistics speak for themselves: a survey by Fertility Network UK found that 90% of people with fertility problems reported feeling depressed. 50% said that they felt out of control and frustrated, helpless, sad, fearful and worried. Most worryingly, 42% said they had had suicidal thoughts.
Countless other men are experiencing the same thing as you. And it’s only through opening up and communicating that we can create a support network that truly begins to shift the narrative around fertility problems.
4. Seek counselling
Mental health support for couples going through infertility remains woefully poor in the UK, so unfortunately it’s often necessary to seek out help yourself. The one-off sessions accessed as part of fertility treatments are not adequate to support a person’s complex mental health needs.
You might decide to access privately funded counselling or coaching. Many couples seek local or online support groups through Fertility Network UK.
5. Turn to online support networks, especially in lockdown
Social media has become a much-needed avenue of help for people, not only to bolster their mental health but also provide advice. With many fertility clinics closed during the COVID-19 pandemic, online platforms and forums have been offering support like never before.
Many professional and influencers’ social media accounts have seen a huge rise in engagement and requests for help, showing that this new way of supporting mental health and infertility may be the way forward.
Where to seek help:
Fertility Network UK is the number one charity for men or women experiencing fertility problems in the UK. They run a range of local online support groups.
The British Infertility Counselling Association (BICA) offers a range of specialist counselling services, including those tailored towards men.
Search on Facebook for “fertility support groups”. There are many which are specifically for men. Those which have thousands of members are likely to have the best reputations.