At the Fertility 2020 conference in Edinburgh, which begins today (Thursday 9 January 2020), the British Fertility Society will call for all clinics to provide better mental health support to their female and male patients.

Childlessness, infertility, and the demands of fertility treatment can take a toll on the emotional wellbeing of patients.

The focus of support has typically been on female patients but recently there has been a call to prioritise support for male patients, too.

Dr Jane Stewart, Chair, British Fertility Society said “The mental health needs of our patients are woefully underserved. The good news is that the knock-on effects of infertility are being researched and the results invite us all to act.

“We need more specialised support to help our patients through what can be a distressing and dark time for some. And the evidence suggests that support including counselling should be tailored to the gender and circumstances of the patient.”

The research uncovers two main problems: Access to and knowledge of mental health services is poor, including for fertility professionals; and counselling offered by clinics is, often, inadequate, sometimes comprising just one hour-long session.

Jacky Boivin, Professor of Psychology and British Fertility Society Committee Member said: “As well as offering patient-centred care to all patients, we must also get better at screening at-risk patients at the start of treatment. Someone who has a history of, or predisposition for, depression could need additional mental health services, such as counselling, if they are experiencing infertility. These patients need extra care to get them through the process.

“While counselling is important, we also need to look holistically at patient experiences. Why is visiting a fertility clinic and receiving treatment so stressful for a lot of people? What else can we do to prevent or alleviate that stress? There are many areas to consider including the strain of infertility on relationships; treatment not progressing as expected; lack of continuity in care or insufficient information on available choices; the physical burden of treatment; managing expectations of doctors or patients that are too high; fear about, and negative attitudes to, the prospect of treatment; and coping with what is, in reality, a lot of uncertainty.”

Dr Jane Stewart added: “This conference is about reproduction in a changing world. And that counts for all aspects of the fertility journey, not just new assisted reproduction technologies. In this ‘Instagram era’, many people experience huge pressure and expectation around creating the ‘perfect’ family. That kind of stress is difficult for anyone to deal with but for someone experiencing infertility it can be devastating. We can do better.”