The Role Depression Plays in Infertility
Depression can be a frustrating and debilitating condition under any circumstances, affecting all aspects of a person's life. Depression changes the way we view our lives, and affects our personal relationships, our nutrition and exercise choices, and our overall ability to enjoy our life. Surprisingly, depression can even factor into a couple's inability to become pregnant. Research has shown that when a woman suffers from depression or high levels of constant stress, her normal ovulation pattern can easily become disrupted. Chronic stress interrupts the hormone cycle necessary for ovulation, meaning a woman may either miss a complete cycle of ovulation, or the cycle may be significantly altered. Men's depression can also lead to infertility as stress has been shown to be instrumental in lowering a man's sperm count.
Infertility = Depression or Depression = Infertility?
Of course when considering depression and infertility it is a bit like the chicken and the egg debate-does prolonged infertility lead to depression (rightfully so), or does chronic depression lead to infertility? The American Society for Reproductive Medicine believes that women can certainly increase their chances of getting pregnant, simply by learning how to manage their stress levels. In one particular study, women who coped with depression by either getting therapy or reaching out to friends and family for help were nearly twice as likely to get pregnant as the women who isolated themselves as a result of their depression.
Are Depressed Women More Likely to Engage in Unhealthy Habits?
One rather important issue regarding the women who were depressed and infertile revolves around the fact that overall, depressed people also tend to be more likely to smoke, have higher or lower extreme body weights, or a history of drug abuse and sexually transmitted diseases. Because all of these can also contribute to infertility, it's hard to distinguish whether the habits of those who are depressed are the more direct cause of the infertility, or the depression itself. Women who have a history of antidepressant use of more than six months have been found to be three times more likely to find themselves unable to conceive than women who have never taken antidepressant drugs, yet the question of whether depression causes infertility is still somewhat murky.
When Infertility and Depression Becomes a Cycle
There is some common sense in the idea that a severely depressed woman may have difficulty taking care of herself, let alone a baby, meaning perhaps this was nature's natural form of contraception during times of starvation or war. However, if a woman feels depressed due to the fact she is unable to conceive, you are looking at something totally different. Think about a woman who desperately wants to have a baby, so starts trying to conceive. Especially if she is older, she begins to worry if she doesn't get pregnant soon. This chronic worry can turn into full-blown depression the longer she is unable to get pregnant, and this depression in turn interferes with the necessary hormonal balance needed for pregnancy to occur. Every month the woman does not get pregnant, she sinks deeper into her depression, leading to further interrupted hormonal cycles.
Is Depression the "Unexplained?"
Of course most couples will have specific medical conditions which are direct contributors to their fertility issues, and not every depressed woman will have trouble getting pregnant. When you consider that at least 20 percent of infertility is attributed to "unexplained causes," it is entirely likely that depression could play a significant part in those unexplained cases. In cases where there is no medical reason that IVF should not work-yet it doesn't-then it could be time to look toward a woman's mental state as a possible reason for infertility.