Prior to getting a vasectomy, chances are you have many different questions regarding what to expect: Is it a painful procedure? How long is post-op recovery? Are there any side effects?
While many people are primarily concerned with the physical aftermath, it’s also important to take mental health into consideration. According to research, psychological complications such as depression can occur post-vasectomy—and is more likely among those with pre-existing mental illness or marital issues as well as inadequate pre-procedure counseling.
Specifically, researchers examined a 30-year-old patient who had been married for seven years, reporting feelings of sadness and fatigue. It wasn’t until four years earlier that he started experiencing depressive symptoms and that was after undergoing a vasectomy. The patient’s family did not support the procedure due to health and safety concerns and he also didn’t receive any counseling from his doctor beforehand.
Previous research suggests there are numerous risk factors for post-vasectomy psychological morbidity, which includes pre-existing marital and difficulty performing sexually, pre-existing mental health conditions, and a negative perspective of the procedure’s impact on health. Some of these factors were present in the patient.
Researchers concluded that proper screening of candidates for vasectomy, and counseling can reduce the risk of mental complications.
The Link Between Vasectomies and Depression
“Regret can cause depression post-vasectomy. Even if you have children, one can feel sadness that your ability to produce a child has ended. If you have never had children, this decision can make things more final,” says Dr. Sanam Hafeez, New York-based Neuropsychologist Director of Comprehend the Mind. “If you were pressured into the procedure by a partner, this can make a man more prone to depression and cause possible relationship problems due to resentment.”
Just as some women go through sadness with menopause, some men might feel less masculine due to their inability to produce a child. Wrestling with various emotions about the procedure can lead to different levels of depression that are influenced by whether someone has a depressive personality to begin with, and how ambivalent they were about the operation, Dr. Hafeez adds.
Gail Saltz MD, Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry at The New York Presbyterian Hospital and host of the How Can I Help? podcast from iHeartRadio, agrees. Should one become depressed after vasectomy it could be coincidental, but it is also true that this procedure has great psychological meaning for many men.
It may mean a loss of virility, of the ability to procreate, of the hope for immortality through offspring, of the imagined children of the future and it may have some unexpected feeling about their overall manhood, says Dr. Saltz. These perceived losses could precipitate grief, sadness and anxiety that could result in depression.
Risk Factors for Post-Vasectomy Psychological Issues
If one has anxiety disorders or depression, they may be more prone to post-operative depression than someone who does not have these issues. Going into the procedure without being armed with all the facts is a risk factor for depression.
If you have a life partner, this should be a decision that is discussed over time by weighing the pros and cons. It should never be an impulsive decision, Dr. Hafeez states. A urologist should be able to talk with a patient about the emotions men experience pre-and post-surgery. Just as women should not alter their bodies to please a man, a man must make this decision with 100% conviction that this is what he wants.
Also, feeling ambivalent and conflicted about having the procedure could lead to increased negative feelings afterward, Dr. Saltz explains. Martial strife and sexual dysfunction do add to stress and the type of stress that can contribute to the development of depression.
Minimizing the Risk of Depression Post-Vasectomy
Some men experience loss and grief over being unable to impregnate a woman. Anger and resentment are likely to follow if they were pressured into a decision. Speaking with a urologist and understanding the physical and mental implications of the procedure is a must, Dr. Hafeez explains.
Speaking with other men of similar age and circumstances can also be beneficial. A man should also be sure that this is what he wants and that he is not doing it to appease a partner.
If there is doubt, counseling should be sought before a man commits to the procedure, Dr. Hafeez states. If all of the “safeguards” have been put into place before undergoing a vasectomy and a man is feeling depressed, he should seek the help of a licensed mental health professional.
A more thorough understanding of all feelings about having the procedure and time to resolve internal conflict about it, could mean psychotherapy, Dr. Saltz explains.
Afterward, awareness of early signs and symptoms of depression is important so they can be addressed medically before a more serious depression develops. Support of a partner is important as with all major life stressors.
Mental Illness Journal: “Post-Vasectomy Depression: A Case Report and Literature Review”
Dr. Sanam Hafeez, NYC Neuropsychologist Director of Comprehend the Mind
Gail Saltz MD, Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry The New York Presbyterian Hospital and host of the “How Can I Help?" podcast from iHeartRadio