Updated 05 September 2017

Incontinence and depression

Sponsored: 8 strategies for treating both your bladder problems and your depression.


If you suffer from incontinence and depression, understanding how both conditions may be affecting you is key to getting back to living a full, normal life.

It’s easy to see how depression and incontinence might be linked – and we’re not just talking about a case of the "the blues". Scientists are finding a strong link between proper, clinical depression and bladder problems.

So, if you have urinary incontinence, also called bladder weakness, it’s important to pay attention to both your physical and emotional health. Understanding how both conditions may be affecting you is key to getting back onto the road of living a full, normal life in every respect.

The emotional toll of incontinence and bladder weakness can be huge. People are embarrassed by their bladder condition and go to unusual lengths to hide it: they wear dark clothes so any leakage doesn’t show, they worry about odours. And they become more and more reclusive, which simply feeds the anxiety and depression. It even has an effect on their most intimate relationships as they worry about leaking during sexual intercourse.

Many people suffer for years because they believe that nothing can be done, or that all surgeries or treatments are ineffective, but the good news is that there are many good ways to manage incontinence, and it’s entirely possible to treat the condition.

The way to deal with the problem is to address both your emotions and your bladder problems, and get medical attention for both. See a urologist to figure out what’s causing the incontinence, and get to a psychologist and/or psychiatrist to help you to get on top of your depression. But the urologist is the best place to start, because often once people get the incontinence under control, the depression symptoms start to lift.

Here are some tips for treating both your bladder problems and your depression:

1. Always visit your doctor first for advice. There are many medical interventions available and your physician will be able to help you select the most suitable option for your condition.
2. Lose weight. Obesity is a major cause of stress incontinence. Start with a simple 20-minute walk daily. 

3. Change your diet. Cut out bladder irritants like caffeine, alcohol, and artificial sweeteners and spicy foods. Drink plenty of water and eat a high fibre diet, which helps with constipation. Although a healthy diet and exercise can lift your mood and are part of treatment for depression, they will not be enough by themselves to treat clinical depression. 

4. Work with a physiotherapist on pelvic floor exercises. Pelvic floor exercises can help strengthen muscles that control bladder problems.

5. Train your bladder to hold urine for longer. This can easily be practised at home. Don’t rush to the toilet "just in case" or following the first urge. Try to prolong the urge to urinate to train your bladder to hold larger quantities of urine for longer. 

6. Manage your stress. Ongoing stress can perpetuate depression symptoms, so it’s important to learn some stress management techniques like yoga and meditation.

7. Use incontinence products. Sure, it feels a little embarrassing buying them, but isn’t an accident worse? Peace of mind can go a long way towards improving your mood. TENA’s purpose-designed products will protect your skin, and offer the best protection against leakage and odour.

8. Cultivate supportive relationships. Don’t underestimate the importance of support from family and friends.

Most importantly, if your depression and/or bladder control aren’t getting better, go back to the relevant medical professionals, and tell them. They can’t help you unless they know you need help. And they have a whole arsenal of strategies and combinations they can try – you just have to keep them informed.

For advice on bladder weakness products, please call us on 087 359 1079. Visit TENA for more information on our product range. You can also buy TENA products online at TENA Shop


Ask the Expert

Incontinence Expert

Prenevin Govender completed his MBChB at the University of Cape Town in 2001. He obtained his Fellowship of the College of Urologists in 2009 and graduated with distinction for a Masters in Medicine from the University of Cape Town in 2010. His special interests include laparoscopic, pelvic organ prolapse and urinary incontinence surgery. He consults full-time at Life Kingsbury Hospital in Claremont.

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