Article by Ceri Wheeldon
With 1 in 3 women affected by adult incontinence, how can more open discussion be encouraged?
In an industry first, Always Discreet for Sensitive Bladder releases a short documentary to help break the silence around the condition
“If another woman can be open about it, I can be open about it too, there’s no shame in it”, Sandra Small, age 53.
Inspired by the stories of real women across the country, UK film director Flora Berkeley has partnered with Always Discreet to create a ground-breaking documentary that aims to give a voice to the 1 in 3 women suffering from a condition that many feel reluctant to talk about; adult incontinence (AI).
Silenced by shame, nearly half (45%) of sufferers admit that sensitive bladder affects their happiness, leaving them feeling embarrassed, alone and trapped in a body much older than their years. Further research from Always Discreet – revolutionary products for bladder leak protection – confirms how damaging AI can be to women’s self-esteem, with 42% admitting to feeling less attractive and feminine and up to half of all women experiencing negative thoughts about themselves because of the condition.
The documentary shares open and honest views from women who experience AI, and who want others to learn from their experience- and not hide away from life or suffer in silence.
Having watched the documentary myself and hearing about how AI affects women in their day to day lives. I wondered how it might impact women in the workplace, and the best way to address it . As we are all working for longer, it is crucial that we do not let any health issues limit our opportunities to work.
Managing Adult Incontinence in the Workplace
I asked Dr Sarah Jarvis for her advice on how women should address the issue of AI if the condition was impacting their performance in the workplace.
This is what she had to say:
- How should women approach the subject of AI in the workplace, with both colleagues and also with employers. As it is an embarrassing topic to discuss, how should it be approached…especially with a male boss?
This is a tricky one, especially if you have a male boss who may not understand the problem. It also very much depends on what kind of incontinence you have. If you suffer from stress incontinence, you’re unlikely to feel the need to rush to the loo frequently. However, you may not be able to perform certain tasks, such as lifting, without the risk of an accident. If you suffer from urge incontinence, you’re more likely to need very rapid access to a loo as you may get a sudden urge to go before you have an accident. I’ve encouraged some of my patients to bring up the subject of incontinence with a sympathetic female colleague (ideally one with long experience in their workplace). They may know if this has been an issue before and how it’s been addressed, or they may be struggling with incontinence themselves. A note from the GP about the adaptations they might need can also help – they can give this to their boss and ask if their boss can read it and come back to them later to discuss it. On the whole, they’ve had positive responses – in one case a woman told me her boss was so embarrassed to discuss the letter that he basically came back to her and told her he would approve any suggestions she made to help. He never queried her leaving her desk again…
- If AI leads to absenteeism can medical notes be introduced if absence leads to disciplinary procedures?
AI is unlikely to lead to absenteeism except for treatment. All employees have a right to take time out for medical treatment (including, for instance, visits to the physiotherapist). Ideally doctors should not be writing certificates for time off under 1 week – it’s not what the NHS is designed for and it’s the reason ‘self-certification’ was developed. However, if an employee is having problems at work as a result of any medical problems, the employer should be requesting a medical report from the GP
- Any tips for managing AI in the workplace?
Again, this depends on the kind of AI you have. I always encourage women to come and see their GP to discuss AI, whether it’s causing symptoms in the workplace or at home. Most parts of the country now have dedicated continence clinics, where specialist physiotherapists can help with a range of measures to control and sometimes cure symptoms. However, I’m also aware that not everyone can control their symptoms entirely, even with the most effective treatment. Many women try to avoid drinking too much so they don’t need to take so many breaks at work to visit the loo – in fact, this can lead to urine becoming more concentrated and irritating the bladder. It can also make you prone to urine infections. If you have urge incontinence, try cutting out fizzy drinks and caffeine to see if this relieves your symptoms. Rather than sanitary products, always use pads designed for AI, as you’re far less likely to suffer an embarrassing accident. If you have to travel or visit other premises for work, make sure you know where the ladies’ is as soon as you get there – it may seem obvious, but you’ll often have other things on your mind and the last thing you want is to locate a loo in a strange place when you’re panicking about an accident.
One of the documentary participants, Corali Sacerdote, a Pilates teacher says “I wanted to talk about it, definitely. I wanted for someone else to say ‘its ok, its fine’, but I didn’t”,
Driven by her passion to tell the stories that need to be told, director Flora Berkeley has created a powerful platform for four brave women who millions of other women up and down the UK living with AI, will be able to relate to. Her documentary, which aims to normalise the condition and stimulate conversation around the topic, celebrates the confidence and self-assured womanhood of these inspirational protagonists as they openly share their story of what it means to live with AI today.