Does Mental Health Affect Fertility? The Majority Of Women Think So, According To A New Study

With the rise of the modern feminist movement and body positivity, people are more aware than ever of their own health, and work hard to make sure women's health is no longer a taboo subject. But it turns out that we have much more to learn about sexual and reproductive health. According to a large survey published Nov. 16, a lot of women believe some harmful myths about their reproductive health and fertility, and this can be straight up dangerous. The research was conducted by Celmatix — a women’s health company that utilizes tech, data, and science to deliver individualized insight into reproductive health and fertility. Over 1,000 women between the ages of 25 and 33 were polled in a survey on a broad range of topics, covering everything from the participants’ understanding of reproductive health issues, to questions about their desire to have biological children. One finding of the study showed that — despite one out of ten women are diagnosed with endometriosis — a majority of women didn’t know the term, or could not define the reproductive health issue. Women’s health is routinely shamed and stigmatized around the globe, which could contribute to the lack of understanding.

Notably, one of the most interesting findings revealed in the study was that over 70 percent of women believe that mental health conditions can adversely affect fertility. But the idea that mental illness can lead to infertility is unproven, with no science or data to back this belief. In fact, mental health issues tend to follow fertility issues — not the other way around. Infertility in both women and men has been overwhelmingly proven to cause depression and anxiety. Some doctors even believe women who want to have children, but consistently deal with fertility issues can develop post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms.

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Stress, however, can play a role in the ability to conceive, as well as the ability to carry a healthy pregnancy to term. A 2010 study published in the journal Fertility and Sterility revealed that stress may possibly affect the ability to conceive, and a 2014 study showed people with higher levels of the enzyme alpha-amylase in their saliva took longer to get pregnant. Moreover, a University of Pennsylvania study did show that stress in the first trimester could impede on the healthy fetal development. Lumping in stress (that has lengthy research about its connection to infertility) with diagnosable mental health conditions (which has virtually no research) may perpetuate the false belief that mental illness equates to fertility problems. This is problematic since it perpetuates a false myth about the relationship of stress to mental health, and of both of these things to fertility.

Study participants were also most concerned about mental health issues impacting fertility, followed by concerns about age — which multiple studies have confirmed is a leading factor in declining fertility. Participants also commonly misidentified birth control as a possible cause of fertility issues, but it is not. Though folks do not need to be concerned about mental health and contraception, there are quite a few health factors and lifestyle choices that can affect fertility. Smoking, drug use, and rigorous exercise can all inhibit your ability to get pregnant; reproductive health issues like endometriosis, polycystic ovarian syndrome, and structural issues (aka, something like a tilted uterus) can also cause infertility.

Celmatix’s survey shows us that women do have a good grasp on their reproductive health, but it never hurts to learn more. Having an open dialogue about all things fertility, pregnancy, and health can serve to clear up misconceptions that cause harm or unnecessary stigma. Our society needs to encourage these conversation — reproductive health is not a taboo, but an important topic people can’t afford to overlook.