How mental health can impact reproductive health

October 3, 2022 – Mental health burdens can be a big impediment for people experiencing infertility, according to Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s Carmen Messerlian.

In a September 22 interview on ASRM Today, a podcast of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, Messerlian, assistant professor of environmental reproductive, perinatal, and pediatric epidemiology, spoke about how both early life trauma and dealing with the stress and anxiety of infertility can negatively impact reproductive health.

Messerlian noted that stress can interfere with the endocrine system, influencing how the ovaries and testes produce hormones that govern the production of sperm and eggs.

“We know that people who have pre-existing exposures to trauma, stress, or poor experiences in childhood are more likely to have adverse outcomes in the reproductive life course. They’re more likely to be infertile, for example,” she said. “But we also know that the process of infertility and being infertile is a traumatic experience for the couple. So there’s soft of a vicious cycle that gets played out. … What we see is that about 40% to 60% of both males and females who have a diagnosis of infertility struggle with severe anxiety and depression. Many also have PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder, symptoms.”

Messerlian recommended that medical providers dealing with reproductive issues focus more on their patients’ mental health. “I think … we don’t spend enough time orienting to a patient and talking to the couple about what their struggles are outside of the fact that they didn’t produce enough eggs,” she said. “I think we need to go backstream to look at what is behind some of these emotional issues that might have roots in earlier life, and that might actually impact your current reproductive health. I think that’s … something that requires a big broad lens in terms of how we treat infertile people.”

Listen to the podcast: ASRM Today: Mental Health Burdens and the Role of Social Health Environments on Reproductive Health with Dr. Carmen Messerlian