World Mental Health Day, and why it matters to fertility patients

Today is World Mental Health day, and a good time to think about the mental health impact on fertility problems, tests and treatment. All too often, there’s an attitude from those with no experience of infertility that it isn’t a really serious problem, and yet anyone who has been through this themselves will be only too aware of the way it can impact on your health.

A survey for the patient charity Fertility Network UK and Middlesex University found that respondents reported feeling sad, frustrated, fearful and worried, out of control and helpless most of the time. They often felt stressed, tearful, inadequate, angry, isolated, despairing, depressed, guilty or shamed and experienced low confidence and concentration and a loss of sex driven. They also felt unsupported. Even more alarmingly, 42% of respondents said that they had experienced suicidal feelings.

If you are going through treatment and are finding it tough, there is help and support out there. The patient charity Fertility Network UK offers free group meetings around the country where meeting with other people going through similar experiences can be hugely helpful, and have a support line and online forum too. The British Infertility Counselling Association has a host of specialist counsellors ready to help with emotional support, and you can also talk to your GP if you are feeling in need of counselling. Don’t suffer alone.

Why it’s worth considering a support group

images-2Going along to a support group can seem a bit outdated when so much support is online now, but there is still a place for the old-fashioned way of getting together. The survey released for National Fertility Awareness Week by Fertility Network UK and Middlesex University found that just 17% of respondents had attended a support group, but more than half (52%) would have liked to attend one if they’d had the opportunity.

It isn’t easy to go along to a group for the first time, and the very idea of a “support group” can sound off-putting. I think people often imagine something terribly gloomy and it can take courage to take the first step and commit to going to a meeting. In fact, most people who do get as far as going to a group tend to find it incredibly helpful. There’s something very empowering about being with other people who understand what it’s like to experience fertility problems, to share experiences and to learn from one another. People are often surprised at how upbeat and cheerful the groups can be. Of course, there is sadness sometimes but there is also a lot of laughter and many friendships are forged.

If you have a group near you, why not give it a try – and if you don’t, maybe you could think about setting one up yourself? You don’t need any special training as a group can be a simple matter of arranging a get-together at a local cafe. Those who have done this in the past have found it to be incredibly rewarding at many levels – you may be interested in this article by Fertility Network UK volunteer Ridhi Sahi about her experiences and you can find out more about volunteering as a support group organiser here.

The true impact of fertility problems

Cmhc-LqWYAAWk88It’s all too easy for those not affected to brush off the impact of fertility problems on people’s lives, but a new study from Fertility Network UK with Middlesex University London has come up with some bleak figures.

As Susan Seenan, Chief Executive of Fertility Network UK explains, “This survey paints an incredibly stark, distressing picture of what it is like to experience fertility problems in this country. Sadly, in the UK, the inability to have children without medical help means having to face a series of emotional, social and financial hurdles. These include often having to pay crippling amounts of money for your own medical treatment, a lack of affordable, accessible counselling and emotional support, and the deterioration of core relationships. Far more needs to be done to help individuals through the far-reaching devastation fertility issues wreak.”

Key findings include:

You can read the full survey results here 

Can you help with a fertility survey?

800px-Woman-typing-on-laptopIf you haven’t filled it in already, do you have a spare 15 minutes to complete an online survey carried out by Infertility Network UK and Middlesex University?

This important research project is looking at the impact of fertility problems and at support. If you are considering fertility treatment, are having treatment or have done in the past you can take part in the survey. The questions look at the impact it has on you in a number of different areas of your life. The aim is to help to promote better ways of supporting people with fertility problems, so the more people who complete the survey, the greater the benefit is likely to be. It is completely confidential and anonymous – you can find the survey through this link.

Last chance to have your say about work and fertility treatment – men too!

I’ve been tweeting about this quite a bit recently, and I have posted here about it before too – but I think dealing with work during fertility treatment is often a very tricky issue and one that is often overlooked.  I was delighted to discover that a team of researchers from Middlesex University were looking into the subject as this kind of research study can really help to improve things in the future.

There is still time to get in touch – they need some more women participants, but also they would be very keen to speak to men as fewer men have volunteered so far. You will need to be using assisted conception services, or to have used them in the last 5 years, and you should have been in full-time employment when you started treatment.  They are hoping to explore how people combine work and fertility treatment, and are considering what might make things easier.

Participating in the research will involve an interview of about an hour, which can be done at your home, at Middlesex University in London or by telephone. The interviews are anonymous and totally confidential. If you think you might be interested and would like to know more, you can contact the research team by emailing Dr Nicola Payne –


Your experiences of work and fertility treatment

Dealing with work when you’re going through fertility treatment can be extremely difficult.  When I started my first cycle of IVF, I imagined I was going to be able to fit it neatly around my work, but rapidly realised that it’s not that simple.  I was soon more worried about how I was coping with work and IVF than I was about the treatment itself.  In the end, I took a few days off in the lead-up to egg collection which made all the difference.

At Infertility Network UK, we carried out a survey into work and IVF some years back and were surprised at what a tough experience many people had as they tried to balance their work and treatment.  Now, a team from Middlesex University are carrying out a research project looking at this, and they need your help.  I met some of the team earlier this week, and would urge anyone who may be interested to contact them as this kind of work could help other fertility patients in the future – and they are really nice people!

They are hoping to talk to men and women who are using assisted conception services, or have used them in the last 5 years, and who, at least at the start of treatment, were in full-time employment.  They are hoping to explore how people combine work and fertility treatment, and are considering what might make things easier.

Participating in this research will involve an interview of about an hour, which can be done at your home, at Middlesex University in London or by telephone. The interview will explore your views and experiences relating to your job, and of using assisted conception and wishing to become a parent, and of combining the two, including positive and negative experiences, as well as your views on the support you have received or would like to receive.

The interview is anonymous and totally confidential.  Although it will be recorded and transcribed, the transcript will only be seen by the four members of the research team. Analysis of the transcripts will involve examining themes that occur across all the interviews. Some short quotes may be used to illustrate particular themes, and if this is the case any potentially identifying features will be removed and the quotes will be totally anonymous.  Consent forms will also be kept separately from interviews to protect anonymity.

If you decide to take part, you may withdraw at any time, even during the interview, without giving a reason.

If you think you might be interested and would like to know more, you can contact the research team by emailing Dr Nicola Payne –