Affecting an estimated three-to-six million people across the UK – more than diabetes or asthma – urinary incontinence is a common condition impacting both men and women, yet it’s not spoken about as much as it should be. Seeking to end the taboo and help patients shed their shame, The Urology Foundation suggests steps for steering the mental repercussions of urinary incontinence into mainstream conversation.
Whether it’s due to the side-effects of surgery, the outcome of pregnancy, or the impact of obesity, urinary incontinence can feel like a life-sentence; inflicting both mental and physical challenges onto a person’s life.
Mental Health and Incontinence go Hand-in-Hand
Research has shown that there is a strong link between urinary incontinence and mental health issues. The anxiety and embarrassment people feel while suffering from urinary incontinence can be really debilitating. Trips away from the home, even if it is a short trip into town, may require a huge amount of planning to know when and where they can access the toilets and monitoring how much fluid they can consume.
Urinary incontinence can even stop previously outgoing individuals from leaving the house because they are scared that they might leak and embarrass themselves. This can lead to depression as sufferers become more and more isolated from friends and family. In addition, a person may feel anger and frustration about the condition and why it’s affecting them.
A Different Quality of Life
While not life-threatening, urinary incontinence threatens the general quality of life. Sufferers may suddenly become inactive, with fear of exercising or continuing with team sports. This can lead to weight gain, which can further exacerbate symptoms which they are already experiencing.
The sex lives of those living with urinary incontinence can also suffer as they try to hide the condition from a partner. In a recent survey conducted by The Urology Foundation (TUF), one-in-two Brits have stopped having sex because of a urology disease.
A Fear of Being Away from the Toilet
For Clare, life with an overactive bladder means that her bladder always feels irritated. She can go to the toilet and then, almost immediately after, feels that she must go again.
‘I always have to plan ahead of time, always making sure that there is a bathroom wherever I’m going.
‘I’ve got quite a high-pressure job, and doing something like giving a presentation or sitting in a long meeting is a very stressful situation.
It’s just not socially acceptable to be getting up and going to the toilet all the time.
‘It can make my life really difficult. I’m an aspiring singer and auditions are a nightmare because I always feel as though I need to use the bathroom.’
Clare continued, ‘The same is true of going out to social occasions. I can be sat around a table at a bar with people and everyone will be having a drink and I’ll be making sure I hardly take on any liquid, and even then I’ll find myself getting up to go to the bathroom and then you start to hear people saying things about you and why you keep getting up. It’s horrible.
‘It affects you psychologically – you have to focus harder just to be like everybody else. There’s always that one extra hurdle to overcome. It gives you anxiety, it limits your quality of life, and it makes you feel like an anomaly.’
Breaking the Silence
The impact which suffering in silence can have is far-reaching and impacts on one’s mental wellbeing. But speaking up and talking to a GP or a specialist nurse is half the battle.
TUF is working hard to raise awareness of the help available, so that people can live their life well. Encouraging those affected by urinary incontinence to seek medical attention and examine why they might be suffering often goes a long way to resolving some of the problems.
TUF is a UK-wide charity committed to improving the lives of patients with urological conditions by funding critical research and the training of urology professionals for the benefit of the patient.
Diseases and cancers of the kidneys, bladder, prostate, and male reproductive organs are becoming more prevalent and devastating the lives of thousands of men, women and children.
TUF is committed to finding better treatments and cures and has invested millions in urology research programmes, as well as providing professional training grants and bespoke education courses. Recently TUF-funded scholars were involved with the UK’s first robotic kidney transplants.
This September TUF is running Urology Awareness Month – a campaign dedicated to increasing knowledge and awareness about urological conditions and focussing on prevention, treatment, and management.
Research by the charity suggests that a quarter of UK residents would not seek medical advice for a urological condition because of embarrassment and that 20 per cent of people who are suffering from, or know someone suffering from, a urological condition feel ashamed.