How Incontinence Relates to Depression in Women
by Gary Sattin on Oct 13, 2022
Depression and urinary incontinence, though manifesting differently, share several similarities. For one, they both isolate people from those around them, including from medical professionals who can help. This results in profound loneliness and perpetuates each problem. Not only that, but depression and incontinence stop people from pursuing the interests they love, confining them to a narrow routine.
These struggles present in similar ways but also interact with one another. For instance, there are several ways incontinence symptoms can contribute to the onset of a depressive episode in women. To delve into the complexities of each, here’s how incontinence relates to depression in women and what you can do about your symptoms.
Understanding the Data
First, what does the data say? On the conservative side, WebMD estimates at least 13 million adults experience chronic incontinence. Within that group, women make up two-thirds. Put another way, they are two times more likely than men to suffer from incontinence symptoms. Meanwhile, most studies suggest that around 20 million people live with major depressive disorder or a related condition. Women are more likely to receive this diagnosis as well, though this may be because fewer men seek medical attention for depression.
Though you don’t hear much publicly about incontinence, it has a comparable prevalence to depression. That means there is a relatively high chance they co-occur. In addition, many scientists find the rates of depression are higher for people with incontinence and vice versa. There must be some ways that one makes the other more likely or even cases when they perpetuate one another.
Social Stigma: Young Women Struggle to Cope With Incontinence
One clear instance in which urinary incontinence contributes to depression is when young women struggle with its stigmatization. Incontinence is more likely in elderly people as their muscular structure changes and they experience health problems. It’s not a natural result of aging, but it doesn’t utterly surprise those farther along in years. Thus, elderly people are less likely to acutely suffer from the psychological effects of incontinence.
For a young woman, incontinence shifts her identity. She doesn’t have the same care-free life she recently enjoyed that made her who she is. She didn’t expect this and may feel her body is failing her. Because few people in her peer group have similar experiences (or don’t bring them up), she feels alone and without guidance. As these feelings pile on and activities pare down, she’s more likely to experience a depressive episode.
Each Co-Occur With the Postpartum Period
Not only that, but some young women may deal with both health issues due to pregnancy and postpartum life. Postpartum depression is a natural yet widely misunderstood condition. Women going through it report an inability to bond with their newborn as well as mood swings, trouble sleeping and eating, and amped up anxiety.
Meanwhile, carrying the weight of your baby and living with extra weight after delivery both make postpartum incontinence much more likely. Over the length of your pregnancy, the increasing weight around your middle presses all of your organs into odd positions to make space. In the process, you also have much more pressure on your abdominal muscles than normal. As these muscles experience strain, they weaken. After delivery, your extra weight keeps this pressure high. This relates to urination because your pelvic muscles play a role in controlling the flow of urine. If they aren’t strong, you may experience more leaks.
Postpartum depression hampers your ability to lead a healthy lifestyle and shed the pounds quickly. In turn, you may deal with incontinence for longer after delivery. On the flip side, persistent incontinence may complicate your experience of postpartum depression and contribute to further feelings of shame and isolation. They go hand in hand.
Incontinence’s Widespread Impact
Another way incontinence relates to depression in women is that it touches nearly every facet of your life and impacts your mental state in the process.
Never knowing when an accident will occur makes sexual activity much less predictable or pleasurable. Troubles in this department lead to shame about your relationship with your partner. Like many other incontinence problems, this isolates you, as you don’t discuss your feelings.
Meanwhile, in the professional world, your symptoms add a unique hurdle. You won’t talk about your incontinence with your boss, but they may wonder why you suddenly leave a meeting or aren’t always available. Also, the thought of leakage during work is intensely stressful. Even if you never have an issue, this weighs on your mind as you try to focus on your work.
Though we can list many more, the last way incontinence touches your life is by limiting your preferred activities. You cannot exercise as you used to, go out on long sailing journeys, or go on long, uninterrupted drives with your friends. As your options narrow, you sense a loss of control.
This—as well as the burden of sexual and professional struggles—damages your mental health.
Coping With Depression and Incontinence
Don’t admit defeat if you experience this tangle of depression and incontinence. Though, in most cases, you shouldn’t expect total relief, you do have control over bettering and coping with your symptoms.
Mastery Gives Relief
To give people answers, Patricia Chiverton et al. studied these conditions’ interactions and people’s responses to treatment. The team found that mastering incontinence symptoms was effective at reducing depression, far more than addressing depression directly via self-esteem training.
For your purposes, this means hope lies in coping with and limiting your incontinence above all else.
To begin your journey towards mastery, you need incontinence products to stop having embarrassing incidents. Products including waterproof underwear for women and sheeting fabrics restore control to you, offering you a response to your body’s unpredictability. Products range widely, so don’t assume you’ll need an uncomfortable and bulky garment to manage your leakage.
Biofeedback & Kegels
Another aspect of mastery is actual control over your body. For that, you need to enable your brain to guard your urination while strengthening the muscles that this involves.
Biofeedback helps you with the former. Exercises increase your awareness of hard-to-discern bodily processes that tend to be more automatic. Because urination rides a line between automatic and controllable, taking part in these teaches you how to sense and enact the controllable parts of it more often.
As a common part of biofeedback, Kegel exercises are one tool for boosting your awareness; they’re also effective exercises for building pelvic muscle tone. Essentially involving repetitions of tensing and releasing your lower abdominal muscles, routinely doing a few sets a day improves your urinary control.
Together, these tools help you limit accident prevalence and, as a result, fight back against your depression.