11 August 2014

Deafness and Mental Health

Having heard about the sudden death of Robin Williams this evening (likely the result of depression and suicide) I wanted to put out some information on deafness and mental health I've been meaning to post for quite some time.

The fact of the matter is that deaf people statistically have more mental health issues and less access to care than the general population. The reasons for this are relatively simple--deaf people are more likely to experience isolation, even within their family unit, if friends and family members don't make an effort to facilitate communication. The US News & World Report says children who cannot make themselves understood within their family are four times more likely to have mental health problems. To learn more about communicating with a deaf family member, read one mom's perspective here.

Additionally, other abuses also befall deaf children at higher rates, with one study reporting that deaf boys were 3x more likely and deaf girls 2x more likely to experience sexual assaults (likely from predators who think a deaf child doesn't have the means to communicate the abuse to an authority figure).

Access to mental health care, and health care in general is notoriously difficult for deaf patients. (Check out Charlie Swinbourne's Guardian op-ed "How Long Before a Deaf Person Dies in Hospital for Want of an Interpreter?") Access to medical interpreters or health professionals who understand how to communicate with a deaf person are few, and aren't always readily available in emergency situations. This deficit then creates a cyclical effect in which deaf and hard-of-hearing people are less likely to trust doctors ore to seek treatment at all.

Even at a prestigious and generally inclusive Ivy League institution like Columbia University, for example, one cannot make an appointment to visit the Counseling and Psychological Services center without first submitting to a phone interview. And while some might argue that relay technology makes this kind of call possible, consider that if a person were distraught or otherwise in a fragile mindset, this barrier might be enough to keep them from seeking and getting the care they need.

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