Thursday, November 30, 2023

Depression among infertile men: an unrecognised crisis

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Infertility, the inability to conceive a child after years of unprotected intercourse, affects both women and men. However, the emotional impact on men is frequently overlooked. Depression among infertile men is a growing concern, with male infertility being a common factor in about 40–50% of couples dealing with infertility.

This often-unnoticed crisis is fuelled by the emotional toll of infertility, societal expectations, and the stigma surrounding male fertility issues. Recognising and addressing men’s emotional struggles during their fertility journey is essential for their mental well-being. Providing the necessary support and resources can alleviate depression and enhance their mental health.

Male infertility can be caused by a variety of factors, including:

·        Low sperm count

·  Poor sperm motility

·        Abnormal sperm morphology

·        Varicocele

·        Hormone imbalances

·        Genetic disorders

·        Medical conditions such as cancer, diabetes, and infections

Depression is prevalent in today’s generation and is marked by ongoing sadness, hopelessness, and a loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities. Research indicates that men dealing with infertility face an elevated risk of depression, which can hinder their ability to handle infertility-related stress, strain relationships, and even contribute to physical health issues like heart disease and stroke.

Several factors may contribute to the increased risk of depression among men with infertility. These factors include:

·        The stress of infertility

·        The stigma associated with infertility

·        The loss of control that men feel when they are unable to conceive a child

·        The changes in self-esteem and body image that can occur as a result of infertility

Experts decode the link between infertility and depression.

1. Stress of Infertility: Infertility is emotionally and physically taxing, leading to overwhelming feelings like inadequacy, guilt, and frustration. Men may grapple with self-esteem issues and question masculinity, adding to stress and depression.

2. Stigma and Shame: The stigma surrounding infertility can make men feel ashamed and embarrassed to discuss it. This isolation and loneliness increase the risk of depression, while feelings of helplessness and responsibility in their relationships can lead to misunderstandings and conflicts.

3. Loss of Control: Infertility can make men feel powerless and out of control, contributing to sadness, hopelessness, and despair. This loss of control can strain even the healthiest of relationships.

Several things can be done to help men with infertility cope with depression:

1. Seek professional help. A therapist can help men understand and manage their depression, and they can also provide support and guidance.

2. Connect with other men who are also experiencing infertility. Several support groups are available for men with infertility. These support groups can provide a safe and supportive environment where men can talk about their experiences and learn from each other.

3.  Taking good care of self It is essential for men with infertility to care for themselves. This includes eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and getting enough sleep. Taking care of oneself can help improve mood and reduce stress.

Recognising the link between infertility and depression in men is vital for their well-being. It is crucial to encourage men to seek support from mental health professionals during their fertility journey. These professionals provide therapy and coping strategies for infertility-related depression and anxiety. Infertility can feel isolating emotionally, but couples often grow closer as they navigate this journey, fostering resilience and strengthening relationships.

(The author is Dr. Hima Deepthi, Fertility Consultant at Nova IVF Fertility in Banjara Hills, Hyderabad.)

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