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Mental Illness and Infertility

I read about the study in a few places this morning: researchers in Copenhagen had concluded that children born via IVF are 33% more likely to be diagnosed with mental illness either in childhood or adulthood.  And lest you think that it is tied to IVF itself, the Telegraph (or researchers?) were careful to conclude that even though they only researched women who did IVF, they know that “It is not fertility procedures that are to blame but rather mothers who struggle to get pregnant are passing down faulty genes to their offspring.”

Though, in a moment of scientific paradox, the researcher also concluded in the very same article that “the study could not establish if the increased risk was associated to the mother’s infertility whether genetic or biological or to treatment.”

It’s magic!

It’s your fault.

But it’s not!

But it is!

I hesitate to ever comment on these sorts of studies or these sorts of articles because… they’re both somewhat worthless.  (One more than the other.)  The study itself obviously is just a starting ground, and until another study is conducted that looks at all children born to infertile women — those conceived via IVF, those conceived via other fertility treatments such as IUI, those conceived without assistance after several failed IVF cycles, etc — it perhaps isn’t worth reporting on at all outside of the fertility medical community.

Which brings us to the media coverage: it isn’t worth reporting on an incomplete study unless your sole purpose is to foment a community.  I mean, how are these emphatic titles helpful to furthering our understanding of medical information?

It is difficult enough to get through infertility.  It is difficult enough to get through a mental illness diagnosis in your child after infertility.  Do we really need to compound the issue with shoddy reporting that is repeated ad nauseam across the Internet as people glom onto the sensationalized headlines?

Where is the study on how that affects the emotional health of infertile women?



but then it would follow if it was tied to the IF that all children, even IUI etc or those conceived naturally after 10 years would also be 33% more.


1 Alexicographer { 06.30.14 at 10:34 am }


As I think you know, when you post something like this if I pursue it, I go look up the original study. Unfortunately as this is a conference presentation at a conference that just started there is nothing available yet.

I note that the Guardian article (I’ll admit I haven’t and am not going to bother to dig through the others) frames the whole project in terms of “damaged genes … in women with fertility problems” (emphasis added). But unless the study (itself, as opposed to the press coverage) distinguishes, it’s likely dealing with about 50% of cases involving women with fertility problems and about 50% with men with fertility problems (and some overlap across those two halves, as well). I get that this is likely just the way the data are structured/available, but I sure hope the actual study addresses this — is this really a story about women’s genes, or one about the genes of women and men with infertility problems, or of course environmental factors?

Looking at his published work, the author’s research seems to focus largely on identifying patterns in huge data sets. As we know, sometimes such patterns are meaningful and sometimes they’re not (correlations can exist as a matter of random chance, and those that are not chance may or may not be causal in nature).

But just to make it plain that you can’t win, the same author in a published study reports that: “[For a woman] … being unsuccessful in giving birth after an infertility evaluation could be an important risk factor for psychiatric disorders.” http://humrep.oxfordjournals.org/content/28/3/683.long

So, you know, it’s you or your kids. You decide who takes the hit 😉 . Um, well, not really, since, as we know, we can’t actually control this stuff (whether we “succeed in giving birth” or not).

2 Working mom of 2 { 06.30.14 at 10:43 am }

Sigh. I agree, I hate misreported stories and tenuous conclusions. But her either way seems not good. If there truly is a risk and it’s either from treatment or my genes, I am sad for my kids regardless of which it is. I have a hard time seeing how it could be from treatment though. I admittedly have not read any of the articles yet. But did they account for things like ages of parents (again, still sad since we are older), socioeconomic factors, etc.?

3 a { 06.30.14 at 11:01 am }

I don’t mind people doing studies, but our world media seriously needs a person with a cientific and statstical background to filter and follow these sorts of stories. Premature reporting is irresponsible and can lead to problems when average peope her only a conclusion from a small sample size. And news outlets never provide the follow-up of “oh, never mind. When we did the full study, the difference was not significant.”

4 a { 06.30.14 at 11:01 am }


5 deathstar { 06.30.14 at 11:40 am }

Useless! Here’s another perspective: what type of mental illness? The type of mental illness that causes a person to shoot up a school, workplace or movie theatre? Cause maybe someone should do a study that actually helps people people deal successfully with mental illness.

6 Sharon { 06.30.14 at 11:44 am }

It would be interesting to know a few things:

(1) Is this also true of children born from IVF where the sole reason for IVF was male factor infertility or a same sex couple, i.e., no female infertility issue whatsoever?
(2) Is this also true of children born from donor eggs, so that the mother’s genes are not passed to the offspring?
(3) Do children born from IUIs also have mental health issues? we can assume that most women who use IUIs to conceive also have infertility (at least to some degree), and if there is a link between infertility in women and mental health issues in their offspring, we should this showing up in these children as well.

All that said, it gets a bit tiresome reading about how using IVF will cause the children born from it to have so many problems in the future.

7 torthuil { 06.30.14 at 12:01 pm }

The only conclusion I can draw from such reporting is that we need more science education, which hopefully will include instruction in logical thinking, which is sadly lacking here.

8 Cristy { 06.30.14 at 4:37 pm }

But Mel, this is what sells papers! After all, there’s a reason Infertiles can’t get pregnant and this is the obvious reason. Never mind the fact that there are PLENTY of examples completely blowing this supposed hypothesis out of the water. Nope, we’re infertile because we would cause our children to be mentally ill. And someone gets to not only make a buck off this type of news, but also feel superior to boot.

9 fifi { 06.30.14 at 7:26 pm }

I don’t mind them doing research, knowledge is power and if it’s a real issue then better to know than not. But I do get annoyed at the sensationist reporting, particularly when the study hasn’t been published yet.

10 Aerotropolitan Comitissa { 07.01.14 at 11:21 am }

Well of course it might be a real/repeatable risk or it might not.

It might be a causal relationship flowing from treatment or genes – or it might not. It might be a correlation – infertility and mental health problems both being caused by some other factor (e.g. environmental).

And say it’s a casual relationship – it might flow from social/emotional rather than physical factors of infertility (stress caused by infertility leading to decreased mental health in the family, infertility leading to social isolation, leading to stress and coping problems, etc).

So it’s just nice to see the press reporting on all these possibilities, as usual.

So pleased to see Alexicographer on the job as usual, too. Always love hearing her take and she is so right about the chick-blaming.

11 Aerotropolitan Comitissa { 07.01.14 at 11:23 am }

I hit publish before adding that I’d love it if it turned out to be a risk arising from the social/emotional factor of fertile people and media being ignorant arses about infertility.

12 Battynurse { 07.03.14 at 6:22 pm }

The biggest thing I learned in statistics was that they’re easy to manipulate and they don’t actually prove causality in most cases. To many people and especially reporters need to learn or relearn this idea. Or maybe a different perspective such as more than half of children born via IVF are fine and have no problems.

(c) 2006 Melissa S. Ford
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