Mental Health Awareness: Supporting employees undergoing fertility treatment

For those experiencing infertility, the impact on their mental and emotional well-being can be extremely detrimental. This week is Mental Health Awareness Week and we consider what employers can do to provide additional support.

Recent years have seen an increased focus on mental health and well-being within the workplace - particularly following the COVID-19 pandemic. However, in raising awareness about mental health it is crucial that employers do not overlook the experiences of those who are also grappling with infertility and the struggles of fertility treatment. 15 – 21 May 2023 marks Mental Health Awareness Week and this provides employers with the opportunity to reiterate their support or in some cases, reflect on their support or lack of it, on this issue.

The impact of infertility

It is estimated that 3.5 million people suffer from fertility issues in the UK, with many of those individuals also experiencing feelings of depression, anxiety and isolation as a result. In particular, studies indicate that 56% of women and 32% of men experiencing infertility have symptoms of depression, whilst 76% of women and 61% of men have symptoms of anxiety. Further, women who have experienced failed fertility treatments are reportedly 6 times more likely to display symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. 

This is exacerbated by the fact that there is currently no statutory right to provide staff with time off (paid or otherwise) for fertility treatment and, in many cases, treatment is unlikely to be covered by statutory sick leave and pay. This creates pressure for employees undergoing treatment, with many feeling forced to use annual leave in order to attend appointments. As well as this, many feel a reluctance to open up about their experiences due to feelings of shame or fear of judgement from others. Similarly, individuals might find themselves avoiding certain situations that they fear will trigger them, for example interactions with pregnant colleagues.

Fertility treatment also comes with side effects which have been compared to symptoms of the menopause. Treatment can, among other things, cause lapses in concentration, nausea and hormonal changes - all severely impacting the individual’s ability to perform at work and consequently the individual’s mental health. Not only that, access to fertility treatment on the NHS can be very limited, causing many to turn to private treatment which can cost in excess of tens of thousands of pounds with no guarantee of success. This financial burden can create additional stress on mental health at an already challenging time and some also report a breakdown in their personal relationships as a result of the pressures of treatment.

Positive steps for employers to take

The cycle of hope and prolonged grief that often comes hand in hand with fertility treatment can be both unpredictable and emotionally draining. Although employers won’t be able to solve all of an individual’s worries, they can take steps in order to offer support. In particular employers should:

  • consider implementing a fertility leave policy and introducing paid fertility leave to alleviate the pressures (including financial and mental) on affected employees;
  • raise awareness so that there is an increased understanding of the different medical treatments that can be used to address infertility, as well as their impact and possible side effects;
  • implement any necessary reasonable adjustments to assist individuals undergoing fertility treatment;
  • encourage open and honest conversations in order to create a culture where discussions around fertility treatment are not stigmatised or considered to be taboo; and
  • ensure that managers are trained to handle any conversations around fertility treatment with care and sensitivity.

Employers should also consider signing the Fertility Workplace Pledge which is part of Nickie Aiken MP’s campaign for change and better employment rights for individuals and couples undergoing fertility treatment. 

Whilst Mental Health Awareness Week may be an opportune time to reiterate and/or review the support available to employees experiencing infertility, it is crucial that the discussion is not limited solely to this period. The challenges stemming from fertility treatment should remain a topic of an ongoing conversation to ensure that employees are provided with the assistance they need and so that they do not have to suffer in silence.


This information is for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. It is recommended that specific professional advice is sought before acting on any of the information given. © Shoosmiths LLP 2024.


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