Infertility affects 3.5 million men and women across the UK, which equates to one in six couples. IVF offers the hope of having a baby where natural means have failed and, since 1991, more than 1.3 million IVF cycles have been performed in the UK, resulting in the birth of 390,000 babies.

But IVF can be a very emotional and unpredictable journey for many with the average success rates globally at less than 50 per cent. Indeed, research has identified a link between infertility and anxiety and depression – 40 per cent of women experiencing infertility have a psychiatric diagnosis, such as depression or anxiety.

Dr Theodore Cosco is the co-founder and Chief Scientist[1]  of Harper, which combines artificial intelligence with human empathy to provide a personalised fertility-focused wellbeing programme. Here he shares his own IVF experience as well as tips on supporting people going through fertility treatment.

IVF and our mental health

An infertility diagnosis can be devastating for many, resulting in an array of feelings including sadness, frustration, helplessness, isolation, hopelessness, inadequacy, guilt, and even anger.

Having experienced the IVF process first-hand in addition to spending the entirety of my research career examining mental health, I believe that the adversity experienced during IVF can lead to poor mental health.

We worry about how long it will take, the impact on our work and daily lives, the costs involved, the impact on our relationships, side effects of any medication and, of course, whether or not we will ever be able to have a family.

For many people the loss of a sense of control, the hopelessness, and the binary (often negative) outcomes can have significant and negative impacts on one’s relationships, mental health, and wellbeing.

My own IVF journey

My wife and I have been together for 15 years, married for nine, and currently we have a six-week-old daughter who was conceived via IVF. We are both career-driven individuals with a bit of wanderlust, so we spent our 20s and early 30s going to graduate school abroad, traveling, and furthering our careers in countries outside of our native Canada.

When we moved back home to be closer to family, we wanted to start a family of our own; however, we were diagnosed with unexplained infertility. Over the course of several years, we went through the trials and tribulations of the IVF process, which put our mental health and our close relationships to the test.

We were fortunate to have a positive outcome, but the reality of us never having the opportunity to start a family still weighs very heavily on us.

Why emotional health is important

Physical and mental health are fundamentally linked. Your physical health can positively (or negatively) impact your mental health and vice versa. For example, it is difficult to know whether someone is depressed because they are physically inactive, or they are physically inactive because they are depressed.

By taking steps to improve one’s wellbeing, you are making strides to improve your mental and physical health, which may in turn lead to a better IVF experience and potentially a better IVF outcome.

Making small incremental changes to improve your wellbeing may have larger impacts on your overall health and wellbeing.

How to support your wellbeing during IVF

Pay attention to your mental health and to your partner’s mental health. Your psychological health and wellbeing may be something that you take for granted, as I did, but by taking small incremental steps to improve your mental state you may be improving your own capacity to deal with adversity, but also put yourself in a position to support your partner when they are feeling low.

Getting support from people who can relate to what you’re going through is also very useful. A meta-analysis of 15 randomized controlled trials  found that individuals/couples  who received psychological interventions and support showed a 12 per cent higher pregnancy rate than those who did not receive psychosocial interventions.

Research shows that getting support can improve chances of IVF success.

That’s why I co-founded Harper alongside a team of clinicians, scientists and engineers to pioneer new science in mental health from diagnostic to personal care. 

Our innovative mental-health programme is designed for people who are going through fertility treatment by delivering personalised emotional health support through the power of technology and human interaction.

A positive future outlook

Harper offers wellbeing support, with personalised care plans, in-depth insights, digital check-in and coaching throughout the fertility journey.

Following partnerships with the majority of the UK’s leading fertility clinics, including GENNET City Fertility, Harley Street Fertility Clinic and King’s Fertility, our research has shown promising results with 92 per cent of patients finding Harper helpful in managing treatment.

At every clinic that we work with we analyse every single bit of computational artificial intelligence and data to ensure we can offer an empathetic wellbeing platform that patients deserve.

By feeling heard by someone who understands exactly what they’re going through in this unique situation, patients can learn how to express their feelings with friends and family.

It can also help IVF patients and partners feel more prepared and aware of their current wellness and feel more proactive about it.

Learn more and find out if Harper is offered at your fertility clinic.

Dr. Cosco received a PhD in epidemiology from the University of Cambridge and completed a Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of Oxford, where he studied trajectories of mental health across the life course and the factors that lead to greater resilience. He is a Chartered Psychologist (British Psychological Society) with over 100 publications and in excess of >6000 citations on his published work.  For his research on mental health has been the recipient of numerous accolades including the Early Career Achievement Awards from the American Psychological Society and European Health Psychology Society. He is also an Associate Professor of Mental Health & Aging at Simon Fraser University and Research Fellow at the Oxford Institute of Population Ageing, University of Oxford. Previously, Dr. Cosco co-founded and served as Chief Scientist at Eos Analytics, a health data and analytics company acquired by Evergreen Life in 2019. On a personal note, Dr. Cosco has experienced firsthand the mental health challenges couples face during the IVF journey. He and his partner recently welcomed their first child.

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