Hearing Loss and Mental Health
Hearing loss can create a number of challenges in our lives, with mental health being one of the most significant. Most people do not make the connection between loss of hearing and the onset of anxiety and depression. However, research suggests that the connection is not only there, but it’s strong. Loved ones and friends are typically the first to recognize subtle changes in the personality of those suffering from hearing loss.
We often don’t realize the significance of our hearing and the role it plays in making and maintaining connections. Helen Keller said that her deafness was more serious than her blindness, which is difficult for most people to comprehend. As she put it, her blindness was a barrier between her and physical objects, while her deafness was a barrier between her and people.
Hearing loss affects an individual’s relationships with a spouse and children, with friends and co-workers. But it’s a two-way street: an individual’s personality has a significant impact on how he or she will adapt to hearing loss.
It’s important to consider the possibility of hearing loss when you notice a change in behaviour, or difficulties experienced by loved ones in every age group.
Hearing loss in children
Although hearing loss does not necessarily lead to emotional difficulties in children, the literature indicates increased incidences of behavioral problems including:
- Hyperactivity and aggression
- Reduced self-esteem
When treating children experiencing hearing loss, researchers suggest;
- Involve parents even more than usual
- Encourage self-expression
- Play a role and assist with peers and social groups
- Parents should also develop their own support systems to help them deal with their own concerns and feelings
Hearing loss in adults
The situation is very different for people who develop hearing loss in adulthood. Adults have a personality and identity unrelated to hearing loss. They often feel a sense of grief and substantial loss when hearing declines. Some research suggests that acceptance is more difficult for men than women.
“The person in denial typically will refuse to have a hearing test” – Brampton Audiology
Researchers use Kubler-Ross’ five stages of grief to discuss the adjustment to loss: denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.
At the denial stage, people become withdrawn and refuse help. It’s not uncommon for them to deny the hearing loss and they will often say “I could hear fine if people didn’t mumble”. This person will typically refuse to have a hearing test.
It is often difficult for people to assess their own hearing because hearing loss is typically a very gradual process. It also affects only certain frequencies, making it very difficult to notice the difference over the years.
Hearing aids and mental health
Personality and psychological factors affect an individual’s adjustment to cochlear implant and hearing aids. In a society that values physical perfection and beauty, there is a prejudice about physical imperfection and disability, which may be transferred to hearing aids.
These attitudes may present as fear and shame about the loss of vitality and wholeness, and fear of aging. You will often hear people say “I would never use hearing aids. I’m not old enough”. The truth is, hearing loss is affecting younger and younger age groups. However, there is still a belief that this is mainly an older person’s problem. For many people, their feelings and reactions to hearing loss present a greater challenge than the hearing loss itself, even as hearing loss creates barriers in relationships with family and friends. Knowledge is power. Let loved ones know the serious repercussions of hearing loss in all aspects of their lives, including mental health.
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Source: The Psychology of Hearing Loss. Kaland, M. and Salvatore, K. ASHA Leader, Hearing Healthcare News