Defining Mental Health
Let’s start by defining and breaking down what constitutes as mental health. It may seem clear-cut, but many people actually have varying views on this question. Put simply, mental health is the state of one’s mental and/or emotional well-being. Let’s also make the distinction that mental health is not equivalent to mental illness. Everybody has mental health, just as everyone has physical health. However, not everyone develops a mental illness. Mental illness refers to when mental health is out of sync or a mental health concern that can often be debilitating and/or interfere with one’s daily life.
Hearing Loss and Mental Health
The ways in which hearing loss impacts mental health will vary from person to person. Just as everyone’s hearing loss, communication methods, hearing-assistive technology, and so forth, are all different, so is the way we feel about certain situations. A study published by Clear Living titled “The Impact of Hearing Loss on Mental Well-Being and Lifestyle study” found that 89 percent of participants reported having personal and social concerns. Many participants also reported feelings of depression.
I recently developed and defended my honors thesis along with my thesis adviser, Dr. Daniela Martin, on “The Prevalence of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) in the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Population.” What we found was that individuals with hearing loss are more susceptible to various types of trauma. This can lead to increased mental and physical health concerns. However, on the positive side, those who had strong social supports reported higher rates of resilience and perseverance. These statistics along with many others, show that hearing loss can undoubtedly have an impact on one’s mental health. How does this look in every day life?
“Hearing loss can undoubtedly have an impact on one’s mental health.”
Managing Hearing Loss and Mental Health
Hearing loss can often feel draining both mentally and physically. Individuals with hearing loss also have to expend more energy to listen and process language and communication. They’re also faced with judgements, misunderstandings, and stigmas around mental health and hearing loss that can evidently take a toll on one’s mood and self-esteem. Hearing comes naturally to those who are hearing. However, it is quite the opposite for someone who is deaf or hard of hearing. We must pay close attention to lipreading, facial expressions, sign language, and captioners. While doing so, we face delays in processing of sounds or captions. We’re constantly explaining, advocating, and fighting for equal access. That extra energy expenditure can be quite exhausting. Some might say by the end of the day, it feels like their ears have run a marathon.
That listening fatigue, exhaustion, overwhelm, and frustration can undoubtedly take a toll on our mental health because physical and mental health can go hand in hand. On top of that, add the frustration of not understanding, experiencing bullying in some cases due to hearing loss, feeling excluded from conversations, and trying to be deaf/hard of hearing in a predominantly hearing world. It all can add up if we’re not in tune to our mental health and self-care.
How do all of those emotions turn into anxiety, depression and/or other mental health concerns? If consistent and unrecognized, all of these emotional taxations can turn into anxiety and depression. It can sometimes feel like we’re unheard or have no choice but to adapt and just go through it. Individuals with hearing loss often feel anxious in social situations. We have to wonder about the environment, accommodations, and following conversations. This can all contribute to social anxiety. Those with hearing loss are often excluded or feel left out of conversations with hearing individuals. That exclusion can lead to feelings of social isolation and depression.
What To Do About It
I chose to go into the field of psychology with a strong intention to work with the Deaf and hard of hearing population for these very reasons. I’ve experienced firsthand some of the above, especially when it comes to bullying and feeling left out. I want to create a place where barriers that lead to mental health concerns can be addressed in a safe place, where people who need mental health care can get that access barrier-free and stigma-free. I want to encourage the hearing world to do the same. You don’t have to be in the mental health or hearing loss profession or community to make a difference in these areas. In fact, it’s the simple things that can add up to big results.
Coping With Hearing Loss and Mental Health
If you are someone with a hearing loss and are struggling with any of the above or other things, you’re not alone. What you’re feeling is valid. Your experience is valid. You do have a place in this world. Here are some things that can help you cope:
Whether you are reading this and you are deaf, hearing, or hard of hearing, if you take anything away from this article, let it be this: Mental health and disability are nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, it takes great strength to manage disabilities, deafness, hearing loss, and/or mental health. It doesn’t make us less, it just makes us human. I encourage everyone reading this article to do a mental-health check in. Notice how you’re feeling, what you need in this moment, what can help, and so forth. Don’t be afraid to seek that. Take care of yourself and look out for others. Practice the simple things that can help both you and others manage mental health. Little things add up to big results.