In Summary

A researcher from Swinburne University of Technology has commenced Australia’s first study on an anxiety disorder that affects people’s ability to use public toilets.

Toilet anxiety, also known as toilet phobia, relates to two conditions: paruresis, the fear to urinate, and parcopresis, the fear of having a bowel movement in public.

Dr Simon Knowles from Swinburne’s Psychology Department said that research into these conditions is very limited, despite the anecdotal evidence that they are quite common.

“The United Kingdom National Phobic Society suggests that around four million people in the UK are unable to urinate in public toilets due to anxiety,” Dr Knowles said.

“However, no research to date has been conducted into anxiety associated with bowel movements in public toilets, and also if fears of having a bowel motion in public is related to a fear of urination in public.”

As a researcher and clinical psychologist specialising in bowel disorders, Dr Knowles sees many patients who experience toilet anxiety.

“In my own practice, almost all patients I see worry about not being able to get to the toilet in time, or worrying about any sounds or smells they may make while in a public toilet.

“At its worse, individuals with toilet anxiety avoid social situations, which can have a devastating impact on an individual’s ability to socialise, study and work. Unfortunately, this can lead to a vicious cycle of physical and emotional distress,” Dr Knowles said.

Some individuals will ‘hold on’, which in the short term causes significant abdominal pain and discomfort, but may cause long term damage to their gastrointestinal tract.

Dr Knowles has started his research to better understand this condition but is calling for more Australians with toilet anxiety to participate. He aims to develop a free online psychological treatment service for people suffering toilet anxiety.

 If you would like to participate in this study, please go to www.toiletanxiety.org

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