Minds Matter. Empowering Infertility Patients with Psychological Support

European Fertility Week 2023 event in the European Parliament, Brussels

On November 7, 2023, as part of our annual European Fertility Week, we held an event in the European Parliament hosted by MEP Eleni Stavrou (EPP, Cyprus) and MEP Estrella Dura Ferrandis (S&D, Spain).

We took the opportunity to present the psychological burden as one of the implications of infertility. Prolonged yet unsuccessful attempts to conceive or even undergoing long-awaited and much-desired fertility treatment are closely associated with emotional distress, anxiety or depression. Infertility affects more than 25 million EU citizens alone. Every sixth person of reproductive age experiences the condition. We all know someone who struggles with it but we may not know the real weight of infertility burden. It is therefore crucial to see infertility as a comorbidity to mental health issues and acknowledge the need for psychological support services across Europe for all individuals facing infertility and struggling with emotional burdens and distress. Thanks to our honourable hosts and amazing speakers we managed to achieve exactly that.

Our host, MEP Estrella Dura Ferrandis emphasised that infertility and fertility treatment as well as their impact on the mental health of the patient must be considered. MEP Eleni Stavrou, a former infertility patient herself, shared her personal infertility journey. Knowing and understanding the complexity and difficulties of infertility firsthand, she called to address the provision of psychological support in all dimensions of infertility and fertility treatment from diagnosis to grief.

Our chair, Klaudija Kordic, took it to the floor first. She introduced Fertility Europe and our activities and achievements throughout the years. She then brought everyone’s attention to the still perpetuating double taboo of infertility and emotional burden as contributing factors to multiplying the pain and a sense of shame as an obstacle in looking for support and help. She quoted research that the psychological symptoms of people suffering from infertility are similar to the ones suffering from other major diseases such as cancer.

Dr. Cristina Magli, a former ESHRE chair and Fertility Europe and infertility patients’ long-time friend, assured us that patients are and always should be the core of healthcare professionals’ undertakings and their aim is that the patients always feel medical personnel support from both technical and psychological point of view.

Dr Sofia Gameiro of Cardiff University, our expert in the field and a good spirit of the project explained why infertility and fertility treatments can be so emotionally demanding. She stated that it takes on average 2 years of grief to overcome not having kids after fertility treatments. She raised the alarm that there is no equal access to psychosocial care across Europe with only 2 in 10 patients getting psychological support and only 1 in 10 being able to afford it.

Anita Fincham, our own Advocacy Manager, presented the results of our latest survey on Psychological Support around infertility with over 2,500 responses from across Europe and patients’ recommendations on access to mental healthcare based on the survey outcome. The full text of our recommendations can be found HERE

In her testimonial, Afroditi Alexopoulou, our Fertility Europe colleague and friend, reminded us that behind all the numbers and statistics we will find infertility patients with their own, unique stories. The unique story she shared with us taught us about new feelings she discovered, lack of trust in her own body, anxiety, depression and grief, grief she experienced every single month, cycle after cycle. Afroditi benefited from psychological support she found the strength to reach out for and called for it to be made available to all who – like herself – may ever need it in their infertility journey. We in Fertility Europe are all truly grateful to Afroditi that she decided to make her own story an advocacy tool for the benefit of fellow patients.

During this well-attended event, we aimed to push the process of easing the emotional burden of infertility and encourage much-needed conversations about all aspects of psychological support throughout the infertility journey, notably the importance of post-treatment support and destigmatising infertility. The whole gathering can be watched here:

We are most thankful for the video messages kindly provided by MEP Frances Fitzgerald, MEP Robert Biedroń, MEP Deirdre Clune and Claudia Marinetti of Mental Health Europe and words of support of MEP Fred Matic who attended our event in person.

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