Background: A model suggesting that high perception of stigma is associated with reduced disclosure to others, leading to lower social support and higher distress in new attendees at an infertility clinic is tested.
Methods: Questionnaires measuring stigmatization (Stigma consciousness questionnaire), disclosure of fertility difficulties (Disclosure questionnaire), social support (Duke-UNC Functional Social Support Questionnaire) and fertility-related [Fertility Problem Inventory (FPI)] and generic distress [Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS)] were completed by 87 women and 64 men. Data were analysed by gender comparisons, correlations and path analysis.
Results: Women reported higher stigma and disclosure than men. For women, stigma and disclosure were unrelated but in men higher stigma was associated with lower disclosure. Perceptions of stigma were related to low social support for both genders. Social support was negatively related to anxiety, depression and overall infertility distress and showed greater predictive capacity than satisfaction with partner relationship. Testing the model showed that, for men, stigma was linked to lower disclosure and support and higher fertility-related and generic distress. Disclosure itself did not link to support. For women, greater disclosure linked only to higher generic distress. Stigma was directly linked to fertility-related distress and to low perceived support which mediated a relationship with generic distress.
Conclusions: Stigma and the wider social context should be considered when supporting people with fertility problems. Greater disclosure may be associated with higher distress in women.