In anticipation of the world mental health day coming up on Oct 10. I have thought about how a hearing loss would be a major contributor to mental health issues for individuals with hearing loss or individuals with accessibility needs.
As with all hearing loss and accessibility issues, mental health would impact each person differently. What could be a challenge that is easily handled by one, could prove to be a burden too heavy for another person. There are so many extenuating factors, the amount of emotional support one has access to, their society even right down to their gender. Therefore, even as a person with hearing loss, I will not pretend that my experience is universal. I can only empathize when someone is struggling, knowing they have to deal with the issue in a way that is best known to them. Some are negative- with drugs, alcohol, holding on to toxic situations, some are positive - journalling, exercise therapy, time out from society and the world. The bottom line is people handle things differently.
Before I even know what exactly it was, I often found myself actively avoiding people especially when I have had very heavy social interactions (either virtually or in-person). I wasn't sure why but I've come to realize that the stress and anxiety of listening and following conversations takes an incredibly huge toll on me, I suppose this is something that one could class as a mental health coping mechanism.
I'm a person that has a general public perception that I am extroverted and a people person. I would not consider myself an extrovert, more like a high-functioning introvert. I'm great at communicating with people, in social circles, and getting to know them. However, I'm very happy sitting at home on Friday night chilling with a favorite show or just generally having some alone time or spending time with close loved ones. This is really another way I try to maintain balance.
However, there is one aspect of Hearing Loss that people underestimate.. (alongside the listening fatigue/anxiety of following conversations) The Trauma.
Trauma could be defined as the following: Trauma is the lasting emotional response that often results from living through a distressing event. Experiencing a traumatic event can harm a person’s sense of safety, sense of self, and ability to regulate emotions and navigate relationships. Long after the traumatic event occurs, people with trauma can often feel shame, helplessness, powerlessness, and intense fear. (Source - CAMH )
Trauma is something I have had to deal with AND overcome in the past. It has been shown in several ways. I will discuss two trauma outcomes and how I have dealt with them.
Phone calls - For the longest time, due to my hearing impairment (and available technology of hearing aids) I couldn't pronounce some words very clearly. (also add a previously thick African accent in there). This was evident, especially over the phone. Telephones were not very compatible with hearing aids, it was very difficult to hear some people over the phone clearly as well to make out what they were saying especially if they did not have clear diction or had a strong accent.
This made me incredibly averse to speaking to people on the phone. Anytime I was going to call someone unfamiliar or if I called a call center to sort out a life admin issue, I always had to give the phone to a friend or colleague to help me understand what was being said or having to communicate what I needed to the person on the other end of the call.
However, being a fully independent person made that harder, also I wasn't a great fan of relying on people just to get things done. This was something I have had to learn and "get over". Every time I needed to make a call, a lot of mental psyching up was required before calling. However, If there was ever an email option to reach customer service I always used that, even though it would take me longer to get a response. (This is something companies should look into, to make their services more accessible friendly) .
Thanks to speech therapy, the advancement of hearing aid technology has helped my brain re-learn how to listen and make out words/sounds properly, and with sheer determination, this is something I can handle much better now.
Hearing Aids: I had previously denied myself access to the best hearing aids technology available to me. Considering I had very severe hearing loss, it would seem like the obvious choice is to take the best in class hearing aids right? For me, that wasn't an option because these best-in-class aids were behind-the-ear hearing aids. (see below for visuals)
As I had explored in another post, I underwent serious bullying whilst I was younger due to my hearing aids/hearing loss. Due to this, I never wanted anyone to know I had hearing loss, except absolutely necessary (for example teachers, lecturers, employers, etc) Behind the ears hearing aids were never an option. I had even tried to get them without doing the necessary self-work, I never wore them and eventually had to get another CIC hearing aid I could actually wear. I always went with the completely-in-the-canal (see picture above) hearing aids, which were not noticeable at all.
In order to be mentally okay with using behind-the-ear hearing aids and upgrade my aids to the power I actually desperately needed at the time, I had to go into therapy/counseling. This took a lot of hard work and undoing of all of the negative emotions I had attached to letting people know about my hearing loss or carrying such an obvious medical device. Thankfully, now my Phonak Marvels (behind-the-ear hearing aids) are my current favorite hearing aids now. (the additional tech features made them a compelling choice)
These are just two of the personal mental health issues I've had to deal with from Hearing Loss amongst others that are common to most people with hearing loss (i.e social anxiety, fatigue, etc).
In light of the World Mental Health Day on Oct 10. I will take some time to do some personal reflection to recognize how far I have come. I would love to reach out a hand to someone who has any questions on mental health from the accessibility perspective. I do not have all the answers, but I'd love to point you in the direction / be a sounding board.
Until next time!