How to Deal with the Emotional Challenges of Urinary Incontinence

Here are suggestions on how to confront and overcome the emotional challenges of urinary incontinence

The Mayo Clinic Health Letter recently reported this astonishing – some might even say shocking – information: “Studies suggest that at least half the people struggling with urinary incontinence don’t report the problem to their doctors or other healthcare professionals.” Embarrassment and a mistaken assumption that nothing can be done about the problem are among the reasons for this secrecy.

Not telling your doctor? Nothing could more vividly underscore the emotional challenges that often complicate the physical ones confronting a person with urinary incontinence. Yet there are ways to overcome both sets of challenges. Hiding the condition from health care professionals is definitely not one of them.

One doesn’t require a psychology degree to recognize the momentous impact urinary incontinence can have on quality of life, or to understand why embarrassment and feelings of hopelessness might play a dominant role in one’s initial reaction. But experts stress that arming yourself with legitimate facts about incontinence and facing the problem head-on is the best strategy for countering the effects of negative feelings. As the National Association for Continence (NAFC) says, “The first step is getting informed.”

So, let’s look at the facts.

Ignorance is not bliss. Get educated about your condition. There are numerous causes of urinary incontinence, and in many cases the condition can be cured or at least made more manageable. That is the primary reason to bring the problem to the attention of health care professionals. By not doing so, you are precluded from potentially effective treatment, and your feelings of despair may be perpetuated. In addition, failure to seek treatment can result in more serious medical conditions, such as urinary tract infections.

Your situation is not unique. The NAFC estimates that more than 25 million Americans suffer from some degree of urinary incontinence. That’s about one out of every 13 people in this country. Consider joining an incontinence support group in which you can share ideas and information and express your feelings to people who are experiencing the same problems as you are. A good place to start is The Simon Foundation for Continence.

It’s a medical condition, not a moral indictment. Elimination of waste is absolutely as vital to life as is consumption of food. Problems arise in both processes. Why should the incontinence sufferer be subject to embarrassment or social penalty any more than a person with an ulcer or gastroenteritis? Of course, this is easy to say, but we all know that social conventions can impose a heavy burden on people with incontinence. It’s up to you to insist on your dignity and drive home the reality that any human being can be affected by this problem.

Letting family and friends know can relieve the pressure. Keeping the condition a secret only heightens the anxiety that an accident will betray you. By contrast, open discussion can feel like an enormous weight off your shoulders. Be straightforward and clear in your explanation. To lighten the situation, you might inject a little humor if you care to, but do not make a joke out of your condition. Chances are, the people you tell will react maturely and respect your courage in speaking up. Friends who don’t perhaps are not worth the concern.

Modern technology makes a difference. It helps to know that today’s products to manage urinary incontinence are miles beyond what they once were. For example, the latest generation of washable cloth undergarments for urinary incontinence are engineered for comfort, durability, and maximum moisture and odor control. In fact, they look and feel like traditional underwear.

Professional counseling is there to help. Notwithstanding these suggestions, if your incontinence results in depression and uncontrollable anxiety, consider seeing a psychotherapist or trained counselor to get you passed such self-destructive feelings.

On a practical level, urinary incontinence can be adequately managed to reduce its impact on quality of life. The more challenging issue is the emotional component. Understand and accept the tenet that there is no shame or stigma associated with your condition. As with any other physical impairment, it is just a burden to be overcome.