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Hearing loss and mental health

hearing loss and mental health
October 10th is Mental Health Awareness Day. Various aspects of hearing loss and mental health can go hand in hand. The impact of hearing loss on mental health is nothing new to us members of the deaf and hard of hearing community!

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.

Read more: Study: The impact of hearing loss on mental health

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.

  • Be inclusive and adaptive: if you notice a deaf or hard of hearing person left out of the crowd or conversation, include them, even if you have to adapt. Write on paper, use basic sign, etc.
  • Break the stigmas: Deafness and hearing loss along with mental health should not be stigmatized. It doesn’t make a person any less of a person because they have a hearing loss or mental health concern. It means that we are human. You never know what someone’s story is. Be kind and don’t judge.
  • Learn basic sign language: You don’t have to be an expert in sign language to have basic conversation with the deaf and hard of hearing community. Knowing some sign can not only make someone with hearing loss feel a little more included, but also make their day!
  • Be an ally: Deaf culture and the deaf and hard of hearing are immensely unique and beautiful communities. However, we love when the hearing world takes initiative and wants to help us in our advocacy efforts! We might not hearing, but we are human too. Functioning in a hearing world is more than possible. Allies can help.
  • Ask, don’t judge: There are a lot of misconceptions that can be and are made about deaf and hard of hearing individuals. If you’re not sure of something, or just generally curious, just ask us! We would rather you ask and show interest instead of judging or assuming.
  • Reach out: Often, deaf and hard of hearing individuals may not always reach out for help. Some can see this as rude or stand-offish. However, if you make an effort to reach out to us, to let us know that we’re thought of, and that you want to interact with us, this makes us feel wanted and included. It can also help decrease those feelings of social isolation and inclusion.
  • Hear us out: Many times, when we post deaf and hard of hearing content or talk about it, it often goes overlooked. Some may think it doesn’t apply to the hearing community, and that it doesn’t matter. But t does matter. If you hear us out, that will help with understanding, and will help stomp out the stigmas. We just want to be heard like anyone else.

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:

  • Take baby steps: If putting yourself out there in the hearing world seems like one of the most daunting tasks, it’s okay! It can be overwhelming out there. Don’t feel like you need to rush into it. Go at your own pace. Start with one person, one small group, etc. and work your way up. Discover what feels comfortable for you.
  • Advocate for what you need: It’s easier said than done, but never be afraid to speak up for what you need. You deserve equal access just like anyone else! You’d be surprised at the people who do actually make an effort to understand.
  • Find a deaf community: Finding a deaf or hard of hearing community can be really helpful in feeling less alone and can help decrease social isolation. Sometimes we just need to talk to people who understand. There are a wide variety of Facebook groups and online forums out there also if you don’t have a deaf community relatively local to you.
  • Take time for self-care: This is crucial. Your self-care matters. Whatever self-care means to you, whether it’s taking a walk, taking “ears-off time,” listening to music, meditating, journaling, or just taking care of your mind and body in whatever way feels right for you, make time for it. Even five to 10 minutes a day can make a difference.
  • Don’t be afraid to seek professional help: It’s okay to seek help if you’re struggling! It’s not a weakness, but rather a strength. We all need help sometimes. Therapy and mental health services are not just for those who have a mental illness. They can be for maintenance too. There are also multiple mental health resources for the deaf and hard of hearing such as the Deaf Counseling Center which offers online therapy. Gallaudet University also has a directory for seeking mental health services for deaf and hard of hearing individuals.

Bottom Line

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.

Author Details
Hi, my name is Danielle! I’m an Psy.D. graduate psychology student with an immense passion for writing and helping and inspiring others in any way I can. I am an anti-bullying and mental health advocate, blogger, and public speaker through my personal blog and social media campaign, “Compassionately Inspired”. I was born with a severe conductive hearing loss and hope to inspire others both in the hard of hearing and deaf community as well as the hearing community. “Everybody has a story”; that’s my motto and I hope my stories inspire you in one way or another.