regenerate ear hair cells
Researchers find a drug combination that could regenerate ear hair cells
March 19, 2018
Watch: How to learn American Sign Language
March 21, 2018

How depression and hearing loss are connected

depression and hearing loss

Depression is a heavy topic to deal with. It’s one that’s pretty personal as I’ve been there myself, but it is important to recognize how depression can affect people with hearing loss.

Depression is incredibly hard to discuss, given the nature of the “black dog”. The “black dog” is a beautifully apt metaphor attributed to Winston Churchill. It always makes me imagine something like the Grim from Harry Potter. It is lurking in the shadows on the periphery of your vision, so you know it’s there and constantly worry about it, but every time you turn to look, it slinks away just out of sight.

It is no news that depression tends to affect people with hearing loss. There have been a number of articles here that broach the subject. The main reason for depression being prevalent in those who live with hearing loss is because hearing loss can be isolating. Especially when we feel isolated from others by our disability.

Read more: Mental Health and Hearing Loss

According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NICDC), “The prevalence of moderate to severe depression was higher among U.S. adults aged 18 or older with self-reported hearing impairment (11.4 percent) compared to those without hearing impairment (5.9 percent).”

With depression being more common in deaf and hard of hearing people than hearing people, I think it is important to share my experience.

My experience with having depression linked to hearing loss

I have briefly mentioned that I battled with depression during my first year of university in another article.

Read more: Three lessons I learned about attending university with hearing loss

I didn’t actually realize that I had depression until the end of my experience.

At the end of 2009, I was accepted to study at the prestigious Rhodes University in Grahamstown, South Africa. I’d just finished a gap year working and decided I should move on too a new experience. I was looking forward to the change. What I didn’t realize, was just how big the changes in my life would be.

I moved away from my friends and family into a very unfamiliar place – one that was very, very different from the suburbs I’d lived in all my life. Grahamstown is a much smaller place than Durban. It felt as though walls had come crashing down around me. Despite being able to walk through town to reach pretty much anywhere in it, I felt restricted. The other big change was the culture. Grahamstown is very much a student town, as the population grows by something like a third during the academic terms, and with that comes all the behaviors normally associated with 20-somethings away from home for the first time – drinking, partying and all that goes with it. It’s a very LOUD scene, and something I immediately felt excluded from.

Feeling isolated

Isolation. I think that’s the thing that makes it most likely we’ll end up being followed by the black dog. It is the common thing that links those of us who it has already stalked. I think that isolation can set in faster when you’re already struggling with hearing loss.

In my case, I pretty much became a hermit in my room at the student residence. I withdrew from social situations that were exhausting me and that I didn’t feel I belonged in.

“I withdrew from social situations that were exhausting me and that I didn’t feel I belonged in.”

I stopped attending classes, and, over time, stopped going to meals. My existence grew even smaller – caught between the four walls of my tiny res room (perhaps 4m x 2m floor space). I subsisted on instant soup, coffee, and, once every few days, takeout pizza depending on how much of my allowance money was left (Lucky, privileged me had a regular monthly stipend from my parents at that point). Over the course of about three months, I lost some 10-15kg. My dad came to pick me up at the end of the semester and actually took me out of my room to stay with him at the bed and breakfast he was staying at for my final night in Grahamstown. In that final week, I went to all my lecturers to close off my courses, and it was the head of the Psychology department who diagnosed me with depression in a heartbeat.

What are signs of depression?

Like the Dementors who guard the wizarding prison of Azkaban in Harry Potter, depression will affect each of us differently. Common threads, however, seem to be:

– withdrawal and apathy when it comes to actually doing things
– feelings of helplessness
– deep “sadness” (for want of a better term)
– changes in eating habits and weight
– lack of energy
– changes in sleeping patterns

Learn more about symptoms of depression here.                                             

Defeating isolation and depression

Recognizing that isolation and hearing loss can go hand in hand makes it incredibly important that we have our support systems around.

Read more: Why social support is crucial for those with hearing loss

In order to defeat isolation, we need people who will listen to us and our worries. We need to vent to them every so often.

According to research on hearing loss and depression by Jessica West, a Ph.D. student in sociology at Duke University, social support is important for deaf and hard of hearing people, to prevent depression.

“For people with hearing loss, it’s important that they feel able to lean on, talk to, and rely on family, friends, spouses or partners, and children,” West says. “And going a step further, people with hearing loss need to know that these important people in their lives truly understand the struggles they face.”

It is amazing how much weight you can take off your shoulders simply by speaking about the things that are bothering you. Top tip- do this venting and talking in person. Social media is great and can be a tool to defeat isolation, but it cannot beat the power of a direct conversation while being present with someone.

There is a quote that one of my teachers always had up in her classroom that explains this well.

“Shared joy is double joy. Shared sorrow is half the sorrow,”- Swedish Proverb. 

“Shared joy is double joy. Shared sorrow is half the sorrow”

Defeating depression harder once you fall into it, but it can be defeated. So, having realized that you may actually be wrestling with the black dog, how do you get rid of it? It starts with the hardest step – asking for help.

“It starts with the hardest step – asking for help.”

It’s a huge step to take, because it really is difficult to even get out of bed when you’re battling with this thing that saps all your energy and motivation. When you hear “Brighten up!” “Just smile!” and “What have you got to be sad about, anyway?” from others who don’t understand what you’re going through makes it harder. It’s difficult to believe that anyone could understand what it’s like to be going through this – but I promise you, you’re not alone.

It’s not weakness to speak up. Professionals aren’t going to dismiss you out of hand or brainwash you (Though they may not tell you what you want to hear. Getting to the source can be ugly, getting rid of it can be painful, but once you start the healing process, believe me, it’s so worth it). Again, remember, shared joy is double joy, shared sorrow is half the sorrow. Take that first step – ask for help from those ablest to give it, and the journey will get easier once you start.

Learn more tips for dealing with hearing loss and depression here.

Author Details
Mark was discovered to have severe hearing loss – total loss in his left ear, severe in the right – at the age of 3, owing to a Cytomegalovirus infection. He grew up as part of the mainstream community, and only started regularly wearing hearing aids at the age of 15, when his hearing loss dropped to profound levels. Rugby has always been a passion of his, and he’s never stopped playing since getting his first opportunity in high school. His greatest claim to fame is playing for the South African Deaf Rugby team, a position he also uses to advocate for the Deaf community. However, he is afflicted with an interest in anything and everything, which manifests in limitless Star Wars puns, comments on the things making up the fabric of society, requests for your favourite banana bread recipes, a predilection for painting 28mm sci-fi models and the inability to fit into any of the proverbial descriptive “boxes” society likes to place people in. He currently lives in Durban with his wife, Amy.