BACKGROUND: Recent years have seen a growing interest in the impact of infertility on reproductive health in developing countries. Most of the research which has addressed the psychosocial consequences of infertility in African countries has been qualitative in nature and focused on women. It was the aim of this study to assess psychological distress quantitatively in men suffering from couple infertility living in an urban community in South Africa. METHODS: The Symptom Checklist-90-R, a standardized instrument for the measurement of current psychological symptom status, was administered to 120 men upon first presentation to a public health sector infertility clinic (study group) in a tertiary referral centre. The control group comprised 120 men who attended an antenatal clinic with their partner. All men may have previously fathered a child. Raw test scores were converted into standard area T scores and analyzed further. RESULTS: Participants in the study group differed in their psychological symptom status when compared with controls. Male partners of infertile couples had significantly elevated mean T scores for all nine primary symptom dimensions as well as the three global markers of distress (P < 0.0001 versus control), but these did not exceed the upper range of normal. CONCLUSIONS: When compared with controls, male partners of infertile couples experienced elevated levels of psychological distress, but without, on average, suffering from psychopathology. A comparison with qualitative studies from African countries and with quantitative studies from the Western industrialized world revealed both similarities and differences. Understanding and addressing the male perspective of infertility is an important component of infertility management.
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