National News

Holding on for public toilet 'anxiety'

The prospect of using a public a toilet, especially when other people are around, is enough to delay the inevitable.

A new study has found about one in seven tertiary students avoid using public toilets because they're worried about other people being nearby, and the trend likely applies more broadly.

A Swinburne University researcher showed diagrams of different public toilet set ups to about 700 university students, and asked them when they would avoid going to the toilet, and what they would do instead.

One in seven would avoid going to the toilet when one was available, due to the anxiety of being around other people, the study found.

And one in 10 would avoid using the toilets even when no-one was around.

Associate Professor Simon Knowles said although his study was carried out on students, the results would be similar for the rest of the population.

The findings suggest that toilet avoidance is relatively common and a source of anxiety in the community, Dr Knowles said.

"It's an interesting finding, it tells us something about human behaviour, there's an anxiety about using public toilets," he told AAP.

"For some people they might avoid the toilet and it's a minor irritation, for others it can be a very significant impact on their life."

Of the students that chose to avoid using the toilet, 43 per cent said they would go home to use the bathroom, and 23 per cent would return to the toilet block later when there was no-one around.

The study found women were significantly less likely to use the available toilets than men.

Dr Knowles said many people who have gastrointestinal issues, such as irritable bowel syndrome, also live with the anxiety of using public toilets.

"They are stressed out about their gut already, this can increase their anxiety," he said.

The results of the study did not include people with gastrointestinal issues.

The study is being published in the journal Current Psychology.

© AAP 2021