Male infertility is becoming a growing problem worldwide. Infertility is defined as not being able to conceive after 12 months of having unprotected sex. So, are there emotional and psychological consequences associated with infertility? 

What causes male infertility?

Male infertility can be caused by many factors including issues with the sperm quality, quantity or morphology.  This could be due to blockage which prevents delivery of sperm, illness, injury, genetic factors, hormonal conditions, obesity, being exposed to environmental toxins, stress, lifestyle factors and many others.  Sometimes however, one might be told that they are dealing with unexplained fertility where the reason for their infertility is unknown.

Does it affect mental health?

The impact of male fertility is often underestimated because of the failure to communicate.  Sometimes men stay silent or hide their emotions in order to support their partner or due to the stigma attached to infertility.  They feel that they need to remain strong and stoic partly because of childhood conditioning and due to societal stereotypes of men in general.  Sayings like “shooting blanks” or “not being a man” or feeling defective could all culminate in loss of self worth.  This could lead to issues like hostility, and mental health issues like anxiety, and depression. 

Many couples are also delaying having a baby due to career goals and other plans which could also lead to issues with infertility.  Undergoing IVF treatment to overcome this could bring on additional anxiety and stress due to feelings of vulnerability and helplessness by watching their partner having to deal with the bulk of the procedure.  If there have been previous treatment failures, it can cause even more anxiety and stress.  Feelings of jealousy may also arise by observing your peers having kids and this could also cause irritability, anger or guilt, frustration, shame, loss, or mourning making you feel alone and isolated.  So, men are more disinclined to open up or share their feelings to others about infertility. 

In general, there is more support available for women when dealing with infertility than for men.  Men are often told to just deal with it by themselves and they often lack the resources or information on how to go forward from there.  Sometimes men are not willing to look for support through group therapy, chat boards, psychological counselling or other ways.  They just keep it under wraps and this can in turn, take a toll on their mental health.

It’s normal to feel sad when dealing with infertility.  However, if these feelings linger on for weeks or months, you could be dealing with depression.  Symptoms of depression could include anger, withdrawal from friends and family, working long hours, issues with eating and sleeping, erectile dysfunction, inability to concentrate or having suicidal thoughts.  By seeking treatment and talking about it, you can overcome these feelings and thoughts. Studies have found that infertile males had more mental issues than fertile males especially depression, anxiety, hostility, and being extra sensitive to people around them. (1).  Feeling shameful can lead to isolation which could lead to depression especially if you or your family have had a previous history with depression or mental illness.

What to do?

  1. Be encouraging-to help them to talk honestly about their feelings and what they are dealing with.  Don’t place blame on your partner but make it a team effort and have a frank discussion on how to move forward.  Don’t put pressure on yourself or your partner but give yourselves time to heal and to think clearly.  Don’t make any rash decisions but deal with it together with your partner.  Stress could also decrease fertility. In the right headspace, you could look at assisted reproductive technologies like IVF, or sperm donor or decide to adopt or not have kids at all. 
  2. Get professional support- If you are not comfortable talking with close family or friends, and it seems very overwhelming, it might help to talk to a professional counsellor or psychologist especially if they are experts on the area of infertility. Counselling could provide an environment free from expectations and opinion.
  3. Join a support group for men dealing with infertility so that you can relate to others dealing with the same issue and you can feel comfortable talking about how you are feeling.
  4. Lifestyle- See if a change in lifestyle can affect your fertility.  Eat healthy foods and avoid unhealthy foods.  Exercise regularly, get enough sleep, stop smoking and drinking alcohol.
  5. Some medications, chronic illnesses or hormonal imbalances could also affect fertility.  Speak to your doctor if there is something you can do to improve your fertility. 

Having a positive outlook and being true to yourself can help you recover mentally from diagnosis of infertility.  Feel free to come talk to the experts at Xenith Advanced Fertility Center if you are needing advice on what to do.