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20 Oct 2023
by Victoria Davidson

Ways to provide mental health support for fertility issues

Employees experiencing fertility difficulties or undergoing treatment face huge pressures and anxieties

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Until recently, fertility has been a taboo subject for discussion, especially within the workplace.

It is, of course, a personal matter, but the impact on overall wellbeing and mental health in particular is far reaching. Employers are beginning to consider putting support in place for those going through fertility issues/treatment and mental health support is a key component of this.

Many people facing fertility issues and undergoing fertility treatment may be apprehensive about telling their place of work or even family and friends.

When it comes to the workplace, people may worry about being sidelined, for example, passed over for promotions and being excluded from certain responsibilities and projects because managers/teams believe the person is no longer fully focused on their job.

Feeling the pressure

The strain of keeping such a huge life event to oneself can be detrimental to mental health in the first place, never mind the feelings people can experience as a result of fertility issues and treatment:

  • People may struggle to come to terms with a fertility diagnosis, and may experience a range of emotions including anxiety, depression or shame, guilt and sadness.
  • Undergoing fertility treatment increases stress and pressure. The treatment takes its toll on the body physically as well as mentally. Mental health can also be affected because of the hormonal changes experienced during treatment, as many will be taking a combination of hormone injections and medication. Some women report feeling depressed due to some medication throughout this period.
  • Grief is another emotion that can lead to poor mental health. Fertility can be a cycle of hope and loss. People may undergo multiple rounds of IVF, with 65% conceiving after six cycles of treatment. One of the hardest things to deal with is loss after a negative result or repeated negative results.
  • The financial impact of fertility treatment is huge. If the person is not eligible for treatment on the NHS or has had unsuccessful NHS cycles, they will need to fund treatment themselves.
  • Fertility treatment can also have a significant impact and strain on relationships. The stress of trying to conceive can impact romantic relationships. Equally, it can put a strain on friendships and family relationships.

How workplaces can help

There are practical ways that businesses can help alleviate employee stress, anxiety and depression.

1. Offer fertility benefits as part of a healthcare plan. This not only helps from a practical standpoint but demonstrates that a company is serious about supporting fertility and has a culture that enables individuals to feel supported.

2. Paid time off to attend appointments. Offering this time upfront can help people feel more relaxed about taking the time off, lowering stress levels and any impact it may be having on the mental health of the individual.

3. Supportive conversations and understanding from line managers. Having an open culture and enabling people to talk about what they are going through without fear of being penalised for wanting to have a family, is vital for good mental health.

4. Paid compassionate leave. This is important for those who need time to grieve for unsuccessful cycles, biochemical pregnancies and miscarriages.

5. Expanding employee assistance programme services. Some people will want to keep their experience confidential, in which case, offer a channel for these people to speak to someone in confidence.

6. Support services you may not have considered. In some cases for example, nutrition has a huge impact on conception – both naturally and assisted. Helping with nutrition as part of a workplace health and wellbeing strategy can provide real relief, as people feel more in control knowing they are following nutritional advice that can help them.

These feelings can also arise just as often in men as they can in women, across heterosexual, same sex and for non-binary and trans people experiencing fertility treatment and issues.

As with so many other things, education and raising awareness across the business is vital alongside reviewing and adapting policies to include fertility support. This type of wraparound support can make a big difference to people undergoing fertility treatment and struggling with fertility.

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