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Mental health support for people with a stoma

July 9, 2020

A guest post:

 

I got up this morning and went to the toilet. I do this most mornings, but sometimes, I need a coffee to get my gut going.

Do you want more information?

How about the time that I went on holiday to Thailand and got horrendous food poisoning the day before I flew back?

I managed the whole ten-hour flight without going to the toilet only to experience a colossal explosion on arrival at Heathrow…

I tend to steer clear of these topics most of the time. We are encouraged from a young age not to fart in public or talk about our toilet habits.

So imagine the stigma you’d experience if you had to have a stoma and instead of going to the toilet and straining, your poo or wee just deposited itself into a small pouch attached to a hole on your abdomen?

Toilet stigma is so ingrained that the prospect of having to live with a stoma can make people decide that they do not want to live at all. I was deeply saddened if not entirely surprised by reports last month that a court allowed a man in his thirties to decide to die rather than live with a stoma. The man is quoted as saying that he did not think he would be able to secure employment or find a partner if he had a permanent stoma sited, having hated life with a temporary one previously.

I am not an ostomate (a person with a stoma). I do not know first-hand the emotional toll of becoming one. I can only imagine how I would feel and draw on the experience I have gained through my relationship with Colostomy UK and ostomates I have represented in the past.

I can only imagine the stigma faced by ostomates when going to a swimming pool or on a first date. I know my firm would be supportive if I became an ostomate, but I also know that many workplaces would not be.

However… I have had the privilege to see it from the other side – I have seen the positive impact of becoming an ostomate.

Crohn’s disease and Ulcerative Colitis are inflammatory bowel diseases that can’t be cured. Sometimes, despite therapies and lifestyle changes nothing helps with the severe pain, diarrhoea and fatigue they can cause, to the point that sufferers find it hard to enjoy their daily lives. For these people (amongst many others), stoma surgery can be a miracle – curing pain and fatigue in one procedure.

Physically, the stoma can take a while to get used to – how it works and how to adapt to it, but often building the confidence to get out in the world after stoma surgery is the hardest thing for new ostomates (something the current healthcare crisis has exacerbated). Societal stigma, lack of understanding and education compound this, when these miracle operations should be celebrated and ostomates should be empowered to feel proud of their bodies.

There are great charities (Colostomy UK has a 24 hour helpline staffed by ostomates as well as providing numerous other support services), inspirational ostomates on social media and dedicated stoma nurses available to help. However, having a stoma is deeply personal and every ostomate has to experience their own journey to acceptance.

More needs to be done to support the mental health needs of these people.

One of Colostomy UK’s central campaigns is called “Tackling the Stoma Stigma”. We all have a responsibility to do this. Nobody should see having a stoma as something to be ashamed of and nobody should avoid surgery to the detriment of their own enjoyment of life (or to the detriment of life altogether).

Tom Lax is an Associate Solicitor at Bolt Burdon Kemp

One Comment leave one →
  1. July 23, 2020 8:19 pm

    I would say mental health is crucial while dealing with ostomy. You got to be cautious but at the same time feel ok to share and try to live a normal health life.

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