Depression-Related Infertility Causes and Treatment

Depressed woman with infertility sits on the edge of the bed
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Infertility and depression frequently go together. While you may not be surprised to learn that infertility can lead to depression, you might not know that people who experience depression are more likely to have fertility problems.

You may also be surprised to learn that depression during pregnancy and after pregnancy (postpartum depression) is more common in women who have struggled with trying to conceive. But just because depression is common among the fertility-challenged, this doesn't mean you should ignore it or fail to treat it.

Difference Between Depression and Regular Sadness

It's completely normal to feel sadness when dealing with infertility. You may get hit with the blues when your period comes, when a fertility test comes back with bad news, when treatments fail, or upon diagnosis of infertility. You may also feel sadness when reminded of your fertility struggles, like when a friend throws a baby shower or your sister has her fourth child.

One difference between sadness and depression is sadness lifts after some time, while depression lingers, involves other symptoms, and interferes with your life. How serious the depression is depends on how much it affects your daily life.

Signs of depression include:

  • Sadness that lasts for weeks or months.
  • Feelings of hopelessness and helplessness.
  • Frequent crying or tearing up.
  • Frequently irritated or intolerant of others around you, specifically people who you used to enjoy being around.
  • Lack of motivation, struggling to get work done at the office or around the home.
  • Difficulty sleeping, either sleeping too much or unable to sleep well (insomnia).
  • Difficulty with eating, either overeating or experiencing low appetite.
  • Struggling with experiencing pleasure in life, including a low interest in sex.
  • Frequent feelings of anxiety or worry.
  • Thoughts of dying, self-harm, or suicide. (If you're considering taking your own life, please get help immediately.)

If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

If what you're dealing with seems like "just the blues," and not full-blown depression, don't let that stop you from seeking help. Many treatments that help those with depression, like counseling, support groups, and mind-body therapies, can also help with the infertility blues.

What Causes Infertility-Related Depression?

Infertility is a stressful condition, having a strong impact on your sex life, relationship, sense of self-worth, and daily life. In the midst of testing and treatments, infertility may literally feel like it has become your entire life, as you go to and from doctor appointments. All of this stress can potentially contribute to the development of depression.

Depression is more common among the fertility-challenged who have a family history of depression, who experienced depression before their fertility struggles, or who lack a support network. Infertility frequently causes feelings of shame, which may make it more difficult to talk to friends and family about your struggles. This isolation makes depression more likely.

Some hormonal imbalances that cause infertility may also contribute to mood symptoms and vulnerability to depression. Be sure to mention to your doctors if you're experiencing any feelings of a low mood, as it may help them diagnose your infertility and manage your overall care.

Can Depression Cause Infertility?

No one definitively knows whether depression itself can cause infertility, though some studies have found a correlation between depression and increased rates of infertility. Some theorize that this may be due to an overlap in some of the hormonal issues involved in both conditions.

Also, depression may lead to lifestyle habits that can negatively impact your fertility. For example, depression often causes overeating or lack of appetite, and being overweight or underweight can cause infertility. People who are depressed are more likely to smoke or drink, which can also hurt fertility.

Will Pregnancy Cure Depression?

If not getting pregnant is contributing to depression, it seems logical to assume that finally achieving pregnancy will cure depression. However, this isn't always the case. In fact, those who have experienced infertility are more likely to feel depression during pregnancy and are at an increased risk for postpartum depression.

If I Never Get Pregnant, Will I Always Feel Depressed?

Not achieving pregnancy, or failing to have children through adoption or other means, does not mean you'll feel depressed the rest of your life. It is possible to find happiness in life again.

However, if depression has taken hold, it's unlikely to resolve on its own. Researchers have found that after failed IVF, some couples were still grieving up to three years later. Counseling can help you get through the grieving process and take back your life after infertility.

How to Feel Better

Some couples hesitate to get treatment for depression, thinking that antidepressants can't be taken when trying to conceive. In fact, some studies have found that treating depression with counseling and antidepressants together increased pregnancy success.

That said, for milder depression, antidepressant medications are just one of many treatment options. Depression can also be treated with talk therapy, support groups, and mind-body therapies.

Be sure to speak to your doctor if you're experiencing depression while going through infertility. Many fertility clinics offer counseling or support groups.

Your fertility doctor may also be able to adjust your fertility medications, giving ones less likely to affect mood, since fertility drugs can aggravate depression and cause mood swings. If medication for depression is needed, your fertility doctor and psychiatrist should ideally work together to help you decide the safest and most effective treatments for your condition while you try to conceive.

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Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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Additional Reading

By Rachel Gurevich, RN
Rachel Gurevich is a fertility advocate, author, and recipient of The Hope Award for Achievement, from Resolve: The National Infertility Association. She is a professional member of the Association of Health Care Journalists and has been writing about women’s health since 2001. Rachel uses her own experiences with infertility to write compassionate, practical, and supportive articles.