When you think of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), you think of the definition in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. PTSD is characterized as a mental health condition that is triggered by a terrifying event in which a person's life has been threatened, such as events experienced by soldiers during war or victims in a mass shooting such as the recent one in Colorado. According to this definition, fertility treatment doesn't quite qualify.
But a new study, which was presented at American Psychological Association meeting in Orlando in August, found that many women undergoing fertility treatment met the official criteria for PTSD. The study looked at the prevalence of PTSD in those who are diagnosed with infertility or secondary infertility and/or receiving treatment for infertility. The participants were asked to consider their infertility diagnosis and fertility treatment as their traumatic event and complete an online survey to assess PTSD symptoms.
Women Who Remained Childless Had Greater Chance of Hospitalization for Psychiatric Disorders
by Leigh Ann Woodruff, July 5, 2012
There is no doubt that infertility poses a mental health risk for women, and many small studies have demonstrated a link between infertility and psychological distress such as anxiety, mood disorders and depressive symptoms. Now, a new large Danish study has found that women who never had children after infertility treatment are at an increased risk for hospitalization for psychological disorders such as depression or alcohol abuse. The study also raises questions and may encourage more sensitivity for couples who choose not to continue to pursue parenthood.
The Danish Study
The new study, which was presented at the European Society for Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE) conference this week, was a nationwide follow-up of 98,737 Danish women who were evaluated for infertility between 1973 and 2008. In Denmark, all citizens have a personal identification number that can be used to track them through every medical database in the country. The women were cross-linked via Denmark's population-based registries to the Danish PsychiatricCentral, which provided information on hospitalization for psychiatric disorders, including an inclusive group of "all mental disorders," and sub groups:
alcohol and intoxicant abuse
schizophrenia and psychoses
affective disorders including depression
anxiety, adjustment and obsessive compulsive disorder
other mental disorders
The researchers found that over an average follow-up time of 12.6 years, 54 percent of the women did have a baby, and approximately 5,000 of the 98,737 women were hospitalized for a psychiatric disorder. The most common discharge diagnosis was "anxiety, adjustment and obsessive compulsive disorders" followed by "affective disorders including depression." However, the women who remained childless after their initial fertility investigation had an 18 percent higher risk of hospitalization for all mental disorders than the women who went on to have a baby. In particular, the risk was great for:
I believe as you move into adulthood, each of your friends serve a purpose. Some are there to make you laugh, others for support, some you share common interests with and then there are one or two that are the complete package. I also believe there are cycles that friendships move through, the ups and downs similar to all relationships, but compared to the crazy boyfriend from college, the curve on a graph would be smooth with gentle slopes.
When I started trying to have a baby, my husband and I moved to the perfect suburban town. This town had a beautiful downtown area with a coffee shop, bakery, restaurants and two Ralph Lauren stores. The train took half of the town into New York City each morning while the other half took care of their children. It was an amazing place to live, with amazing people, places to go and activities for involvement. But only if you had children.
Humility. It’s not like I thought I was perfect or anything, but I never dreamed I’d be so imperfect at having babies. Being a goal-oriented person, when I finally made having children top priority, failure brought me to my knees. It was hard to accept that the sheer willpower I’d always used to achieve my goals was ineffective in this kind of battle. It was hard to accept that I couldn’t do this most natural of female functions — and even harder to ask for help.
When I was going through fertility treatments, I had a friend’s bachelorette party one weekend. Leading up to the weekend there were a flurry of emails about our plans and excitement, but one email knocked the wind out of me. It was from one of my closest friends remarking how she couldn’t make the party because she was pregnant so “have a drink for me!”
I remember when Mother’s Day went from being special to dreaded. I remember seeing homemade cards stuck to my friend’s refrigerators and hearing about breakfast in bed served in bed by small, earnest waiters. I remember celebrating with my mother during those dark years when becoming a mom myself seemed about as likely as winning American Idol—and thinking, “This is not how it’s supposed to be.”
I often get calls from prospective new clients who say, “I’ve never talked with a counselor before, but my doctor suggested I call you.” Knowing how difficult it must be to make this call, I want to offer some perspective on how I see it coming from the other direction.
It’s been nearly three years since my last failed IVF cycle and I still don’t have a baby. You might think that sentence sounds kind of sad, I guess sometimes you would be right. But, oddly, you would also be wrong some of the time too, which is why I included the word ‘survivor’ in the title of my post.
For people struggling with infertility, summer can be a particularly challenging time. Baby reminders are everywhere—at the beach, cookouts, on vacation, family parties, etc. Often there are summer family reunions where relatives often announce new pregnancies and make inquiries into your baby plans.