UTIs and mental health explained by four mental health specialists

5 min read

About the Author

Spencer is Co-Founder and COO of Uqora. Trained in biochemistry at UC Berkeley, Spencer leads Uqora’s research and development initiatives focusing on UTIs, urinary tract health, and non-antibiotic UTI treatments.

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About the author

Kate graduated with a B.A. in Journalism from San Diego State University. She is the Content Manager at Uqora and is responsible for Uqora's social media, newsletters and contributing to the UTI Learning Center.

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The link between our physical and mental health explained by four mental health specialists.

It may seem like a logical connection that if we feel ill in our physical body, it can begin to impact our mental wellbeing. But, if your partner or community does not understand your illness, this seemingly logical connection is often overlooked.

Specific to recurrent UTIs, a study was published evaluating the relationship between recurrent UTIs and anxiety and depression. It found 56.4% female patients with rUTI had mild to moderate anxiety and 35.9% had mild to moderate depression.

Any complications happening in your physical body are then compounded by your mental health, which can begin to affect your friendships, work, school, romantic relationships and all areas of your personal life.

Here we turn to four mental health specialists to explain how chronic conditions can impact our mental health along with helpful coping mechanisms.

Recurrent UTIs are not an outwardly visual condition, which can make it more difficult for others to understand.

Chronic conditions can feel invisible

“Most chronic illnesses; whether it’s UTIs or a disease like multiple sclerosis, are invisible. You may appear completely normal or mildly afflicted. The fact that suffering now defines your life or that you are very disabled and have lost the ability to do much of what is meaningful to you is not evident to most people. So the struggle with the disease has a new component, the struggle with a world that does not recognize your illness,” explains Dr. Mark Rego, Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Yale University School of Medicine.

This added layer of feeling alone or misunderstood can further complicate the issue and make it more difficult to discuss with others.

Acute UTIs can turn into recurrent UTIs when persistent populations of bacteria from an infection lay dormant within biofilm or within bladder cells.

If your UTIs are trigged by intimacy, it is very likely your romantic relationships may feel impacted. It's important to find a partner that you can speak to openly about your needs and only do what makes you feel comfortable.

Managing a chronic illness with a romantic partner

People with chronic illness are twice as likely to experience anxiety and depression when compared to their healthy counterparts.

If you’re someone who gets UTIs from sex, you may find yourself avoiding sexual intercourse altogether. If you are sexually active you may have heightened anxiety during intimacy because you associate sex with pain. It’s possible this anxiety or fear begins to cause a disconnect between you and your partner, and possible feelings of guilt or shame.

It’s important to be communicative with your partner so your needs are addressed and there is a clear understanding of expectations.

“If you do have a committed partner, share this information with your partner so that they can set expectations. If you are single, decide what you may feel comfortable with. This may help you find partners who may be more supportive.” Jodi Taub, LCSW Psychotherapist.

Sometimes, recurrent UTIs can be difficult to detect, leading to negative urine cultures.

If you are experiencing any feelings of depression or anxiety, be sure to talk to someone you trust or seek help from a mental health professional.

Mental health signs to look out for

A few common indicators that mental health might need more attention include sleeping more, increased irritability, isolation, withdrawal from hobbies, depressed mood, lack of motivation, lack of pleasure, difficulty concentrating or difficulty sleeping.

It’s important to monitor this and seek help from a professional or confide in someone you trust.

Many antibiotics will not affect dormant bacteria, which then live through antibiotic treatment and may lead to recurrent UTIs.

The immune system is in a constant battle with the bacteria responsible for rUTI, leading to a cycle of symptom flare ups and remission.

Hear from four different mental health specialists and their recommended coping mechanisms.

Coping techniques from mental health professionals

Living with a chronic condition such as recurrent UTIs not only requires physical management (ie. staying hydrated, monitoring your triggers, etc.) but heightened mental self-awareness.

Find community

“Get involved. Online support groups exist for almost every chronic condition out there. It takes energy to connect, but connecting with others who experience what you go through on a daily basis can be validating and stress-relieving.” — Dr. Kelly Donahue, Holistic Health Psychologist

Accept and find a coping mechanism that is right for you

“The main lesson is that COPING is the right approach. This means there is no one right way. You find ways that help you with your mental and physical health. This will include rest, exercise, social support, perhaps psychotherapy, a good relationship with your doctor, controlling symptoms to whatever degree is reasonable. Having someone to talk about which of these is right for a specific problem/time is very helpful.” — Dr. Mark Rego, Psychiatry at Yale University School of Medicine

Be your own advocate

“Discussing your sexual interactions and urination process can make anyone feel vulnerable. Your healthcare team is vital towards obtaining diagnosis. Get a second opinion if you feel uncomfortable with one of your physicians or if the direction that they are taking does not seem intuitive. Dealing with the medical system is also complicated and can be exhausting. Find a close friend or family member with whom you feel comfortable and let them know how they can support you.” — Jodi Taub, LCSW

Don't be ashamed if you need help

“Don't let the stigma of chronic UTIs keep you from seeking help — whether it is from friends or a trusted therapist. Like any major stressor in life, it's important to connect with someone that can hear about what you are experiencing” — Dr. Rebecca Kason, Clinical Psychologist

Read more on this connection in our article on ‘’.

You are not alone

If you have personally experienced a shift in your mental health because of your urinary health, it’s important to know you are not alone and there are resources to support you.

 

If you’re looking for an online support group, we recommend joining our Facebook group, The Uqora Collective, to connect with fellow members of the Uqora community.

References

1.Shim J, Kim H, Ahn S, Kim J, Oh M, Bae J, Kang S, Park H, Cheon J, Lee J, Moon D. The relationship between anxiety, depression and recurrent urinary tract infections in females. International Incontinence Society. 2020.

 

2. The Relationship Between Mental Health, Mental Illness and Chronic Physical Conditions. Canadian Mental Health Association, Accessed January 1, 2018.


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