Globally, 1.5 billion people live with some degree of hearing loss out of which 450 million require some form of rehabilitation services. This figure makes up over 5% of the worlds population, showing just how prevalent of an issue hearing loss is. Hearing loss can result from genetic causes, complications at birth, certain infectious diseases, chronic ear infections, exposure to loud sounds, use of ototoxic medicines, and ageing. But the question is, does hearing loss negatively impact our mental health?
Hearing aids are often viewed negatively and so people with hearing loss can sometimes avoid seeking help or avoid wearing their hearing aids; this can result in isolation because they cannot join in on conversations with family and friends.
When people struggle to hear, it makes communication challenging and can often result in feelings of shame and loneliness. It makes intuitive sense that this can lead to mental health problems such as depression.
Quality Of Life
Hearing loss in people of all ages can lead to a drastically effected quality of life. A day in the life of someone with hearing loss can include struggles in the following:
- Hearing alarms or telephones
- Understanding someone while talking on the phone or in person when their face is unseen
- Hearing a car, wind, or traffic
- Understanding speech on TV or radio
Individuals with normal hearing often assume that simply saying something louder or turning up the volume will enable a hard-of-hearing individual to hear. Volume is not necessarily the issue; difficulties with sound and word discrimination may be involved. The need to repeat responses adds to negative perceptions of people with hearing loss as being slow.
Many studies over the years have found that hearing loss was associated with significantly greater odds of depression in older adults, and others find that older adults with hearing loss have a greater chance of developing anxiety symptoms over time. Mental health problems are likely to result from the isolation and loneliness people with hearing loss experience. These people often feel shame, humiliation, and inadequacy because of their hearing loss and often isolate themselves in order to avoid becoming a burden. Additionally, they may begin to feel anxious and worry about things such as “What if I don’t hear something important? What if I misunderstand someone and embarrass myself? What if my hearing aid batteries run out? What if I get passed up for a promotion because of my hearing loss? What if my tinnitus gets worse?”.
Deafness does not in itself cause emotional, behavioural or cognitive problems or psychiatric disorders. However, children with hearing impairment are at greater risk of developing behavioural problems and neurodevelopmental disorders. This can be because lack of communication can lead to lack of language development and subsequently can effect a child’s ability to develop friendships.
For more statistics regarding the negative effect hearing loss has on our mental health, click here.
Tinnitus And Mental Health
Aside from general hearing loss and mental health problems, there is one hearing condition that is specifically related to quite severe mental health issues. Tinnitus is the name for hearing noises that are not caused by an outside source; this noise is often described as a ringing or buzzing noise, but it can take form in other sounds as well. It is a fairly common condition, with one in seven people worldwide suffering from it. There are many psychiatric symptoms that are associated with tinnitus such as: depression, anxiety, personality disorders, and psychosis. Furthermore, research shows that people with tinnitus are more likely to attempt suicide.
Finding ways to cope with tinnitus is extremely important to reduce the significance of these negative mental health issues. Support groups for tinnitus can help people realise they are not alone in their struggle and there are people around them who want to help. There are also psychological and pharmaceutical strategies that are used to help stabilise any symptoms of tinnitus. For example, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is a very popular method which allows the patient to retrain their brain to become less aware of the sound. Psychiatric medicines can be used to reduce the effects of depression and anxiety that may occur due to the tinnitus.
Communicating With People With Hearing Loss
It is important to make an effort when communicating with people with hearing loss in order to avoid isolating them. Communication strategies that can help include:
- Facing the hearing-impaired person directly
- Speak clearly and slowly, but avoid shouting or exaggerating mouth movements
- Say the person’s name before beginning a conversation. This gives the listener a chance to focus attention and reduces the chance of missing words at the beginning of the conversation
- Most hearing-impaired people have greater difficulty understanding speech when there is background noise. Try to minimise extraneous noise when talking
- If the hearing-impaired person has difficulty understanding a particular phrase or word, try to find a different way of saying the same thing, rather than repeating the original words over and over