Nadia Sawalha is supporting the global incontinence brand Depend as they launch in the UK. She told us about her passion to get people talking about incontinence more and what tools are out there to help those who need the right support and products to help them lead the same life as before.
Please tell us a little bit about your involvement with Depend as their launch in the UK today.
Depend approached me because I had spoken briefly about my times of incontinence on Loose Women. It's interesting because what it brought up for me was when I'm laughing it was as far as I ever talk about it. I don't know if you have experienced this yourself when you and your female friends have been roaring with laughter and you cross your legs and say 'I might wet myself!' You all laugh and you think that's you all discussing and sharing your stuff about incontinence.
The campaign made me realise that this is actually my last taboo. I am officially an oversharer- I am paid to overshare twice a week on Loose Women. I talk about everything on Loose Women; to my husband and to my children and yet the thing that I've never really spoken about is incontinence.
I know why that is. One of the reasons is because I don't want to believe that I have any connection with that word. It's a very evocative word. When we think of incontinence, we think of an elderly shuffling, infirm woman or man.
The spectrum is actually very wide and broad for incontinence. It can go from a little stress leakage when you laugh, you sneeze, you run, you jump, right up to someone who is gushing and cannot hold on at all. Wherever you are on that spectrum- incontinence still means the same thing- bladder leakage- wherever you are on the spectrum- you have it.
I choose to call it 'bladder sensitivity' because of the embarrassment around it. This is a big deal for me doing this campaign because I am having to talk about it. I only told my husband and my kids yesterday (Wednesday) about it because I knew it was all coming out and I was really quite nervous about telling them.
My 13 year old said to me 'yeah Mum I get it- you gave birth to us an everything' and my eight year old said 'mm, I'm not sure I'm comfortable with this!'
It really made me laugh- I know they are children but that's probably how most adults think about it as well. The really sad thing about our research is that- a huge portion of the 47% of women between 45-60- that's nearly half- who endure incontinence don't talk to anyone. Don't share it, don't even tell their GP, don't tell their friends, don't tell their partner and suffer in silence.
We had this great psychologist working with us, Honey Langcaster James and she said; what happens to people is they are adding stress to it because they are starting to be inauthentic; they are starting to tell little lies. Like stopping going to Zumba, people might think they are a bit miserable, when the truth is they might have worries with incontinence.
There are terrible stories of people who even when they are thirsty- won't drink so that they don't risk having an accident.
People are stopping doing all the things that they love. Some women we talked to said they wouldn't even go on a walk with their family. They always give an excuse as to why they can't go on a walk because if they don't know where the toilet was going to be in half an hour or an hour they might wet themselves. How awful having to keep all those secrets from your friends and family.
This campaign is really about trying to get people to talk about it. We understand that is really hard but the thing is- people are shy and embarrassed but we have this great online community at www.depend.co.uk where people can anonymously share their stories with other people. Let's face it, there's nothing like the support of other women to get someone through anything.
What are the emotional and behavioural impacts of incontinence on British women?
I think the fact that people start to adjust the way that they live. We were talking about this on Loose Women the other day and Iyda Williams, Robbie Williams' wife. She was saying in terms of women's wear that she wouldn't dream of wearing grey sweat pants anymore. We all went 'yes- we wouldn't either'. You have to change what you might wear in case you have any leakage.
That happens without you realising it. If anyone talks about it- you think I'm the same- I wouldn't wear grey sweat pants and a yoga top- I wouldn't do this and I wouldn't do that. Because it creeps up on you, you might not understand how upsetting that might actually be. You have just accepted that's the only way. This active fit underwear is brilliant because you can put it under the tightest jeans and no one will see it. So there's no need to stop doing anything you want to do.
Two thirds of women don't identify with it- so why do you think this is?
I think it's about the shame. Our psychologist, Honey, who was working with us said; when we are small- the first thing we are taught when we are potty trained is that we don't wet ourselves in front of people. That is very ingrained in our way of thinking. There's a lot of shame and embarrassment involved. You start to ask questions like what does this make me? Does this make me an old person? Am I no longer sexy? Am I no longer relevant? Am I no longer visible?
I had my menopause in the last couple of years and the amount of people who said to me 'don't tell anyone it's your menopause'. All these things as women we feel we have to keep secret and why? We have incredible bodies- we can pick our noses, eat a bag of chips and grow a baby all at the same time without even thinking about it! We are extraordinary- why should we feel ashamed?
You admit yourself that you find it difficult to speak to your husband about it. Why is there a taboo surrounding incontinence when it comes to relationships?
I think people believe it's unsexy. Nobody really wants to have to deal with talking about excretions. Excretions aren't necessarily sexy are they? So I suppose that's what it is. Simple as that.
Many women are trying to cope with this subtly which does result in some giving up the things they love. So what sort of things are women sacrificing because of incontinence?
Doing things with the family, like going for a walk. Maybe not going on a train journey or plane journey. They may be worried about how long they are up in the air before that seatbelt sign goes. Women are reducing their activity on a massive scale and that's really bad because it's only going to exacerbate the problem. Being overweight, drinking too much, smoking and not having an active lifestyle- all these things will exacerbate this problem so it's really important to say active and still do the things we love to do. Why shouldn't we? We grow babies and give birth!
The research found that 43% of women are not using any products at all- so what products are there out there to help women to feel more comfortable and secure?
We need to get to the stage where we talk about products the way that we do about contraception. We will all sit with our mates and talk about the pill, Durex, tampons, Mooncup, sanitary towels and there is no embarrassment about that. There is still a big brick wall on this and this is the wall we have to break down. We need to share about what products we use to ensure we stay as free and as active as we ever were before.
The active fit underwear that I now use when I'm going for a run, because I can now run again, gives me 100% security and you cannot see them at all. They are very supportive- they even hold your stomach in a little bit which is quite nice!
19% of women said they haven't told anyone- in my experience women are usually good at talking to each other about more delicate issues- so why not this one?
There is all this shame and embarrassment and we are hoping by releasing these figures today we are literally saying 'you are not alone!' Ten million women are experiencing incontinence. When talking about everything in life- a problem shared is a problem halved. If we can get women talking about it and we can take ownership of it, if we feel empowered about it, then it's not going to be this shameful secret. Why should it be?
What is next for you?
I have my new cookery book coning out for Christmas- The Little Black Dress Diet which I am really excited about. That's my fifth cookery book. I am continuing on with Loose Women for the new season and I have also just launched a You Tube channel with my Loose Women friend Kay Adams and we are having such a ball with that. It gives you so much freedom- obviously on TV you have got to behave in a certain way. I eventually want to have a You Tube channel as successful as ITV! That's the future for me!