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Mental Health & Continence: Seeking Support

A diagnosis of a continence issue can trigger several emotions and feelings. If left unchecked, these can have a significant impact on one’s quality of life. Those people who address continence issues by navigating both the physical and emotional impacts of the diagnosis gain acceptance and report a higher quality of life are. Understanding our feelings is equally as important as understanding the physiology associated with the diagnosis.

People who are newly diagnosed often report feelings of shame, self-blame, overwhelm, guilt, isolation, rejection, embarrassment and emasculation.

“I don’t feel like a real man anymore”

“I don’t want to leave the house anymore”

“My grandmother told me not to hold on when I was a child – it’s my fault”

“My accident has not only taken away my mobility, it has also taken my dignity”

Many also report feelings of grief and a loss of control, independence and dignity. If you or someone you are caring for identifies with these feelings, you may find this resource helpful.

Before delving into ideas of self-care, it is important to acknowledge that the feelings that surface after a diagnosis are valid and are to be expected. Any significant changes to our levels of control, independence and feelings of dignity are likely to ignite an emotional response.

Here are some ideas that might help with understanding, acknowledging and addressing these feelings;

Give yourself time to grieve

Be patient with yourself and give yourself time to grieve the changes that have occurred to your body and life. You may feel moments of denial, anger and frustration, sadness and find yourself bargaining before you reach a state of acceptance. The state of acceptance may take some time and the process necessary and normal.

Some strategies to manage grief:

  • Talk to others and stay connected
  • Stay physically active
  • Find a support/peer group
  • Find creative outlets
  • You might find it helpful to seek support from a mental health practitioner to process your grief.

For individuals and carers seeking additional support, speaking to a professional via a counselling service such as Beyond Blue or our own disability specific services may be useful.

The diagnosis is not your fault.

It may be helpful to challenge any beliefs of shame, guilt and self-blame. Examples of information that may challenge these beliefs, include:

  • You didn’t do anything wrong
  • Incontinence is a part of normal human experience that is non discriminant of age, gender, race or economic status
  • Incontinence is a physiological change that has significant prevalence in our population, impacting 1 in 4 Australian

For more information and facts surrounding incontinence you can also visit Continence Foundation of Australia’s website

Find ways to gain control and independence:

Feelings of loss of control is a common theme reported by people who are newly diagnosed. Reduced levels of control and independence can leave people feeling frustrated, angry, embarrassed, irritable and sad. Finding ways to regain control and independence is one way of reclaiming your life.

Possible ways to gaining control:

  • Take control of your diagnosis. Ask questions, you have the right to get more than one opinion.
  • Create a medical team that you trust, and you feel has got your back.
  • Orchestrate your support system – surround yourself with family and friends that you trust.
  • Find a support/peer group. Talking to people who have a shared lived experience can contribute to feeling less alone and in control.
  • Develop a set of guidelines about what you need from others. Share this with your family and friends so that they understand your boundaries and needs.
  • Ask for help when you need it.
  • Develop your own daily and weekly routines that meet your physiological and selfcare needs.
  • Experiment with new ways of managing your symptoms. For example, you may find it helpful to chart/record your episodes to identify any trends/patterns that give you clues on what to change or adapt about your routine.

Acknowledge and address any feelings of anxiety;

Feelings of anxiety can include:

  • Feelings of uncertainty
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Feeling tense and jumpy
  • Irritability
  • Increased heart rate
  • Shortness of breath

If you identify with any of these feelings, there are several self-care techniques that may help you feel more at ease:

  • Regular physical exercise
  • Balanced diet
  • Breathing and relaxation exercises
  • Mindfulness techniques

In addition to the above, here is a helpful resource from Beyond Blue

This article has been produced by Sharon Bard, IA Counselling Student on Placement

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Check out a few of our top continence articles below or visit our continence hub for more continence information and resources. 

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