The American Psychological Association (APA) just released a report citing multiple study findings that hearing loss may be associated with mental illness. The report provides evidence that people usually wait on average up to six years to seek treatment for any possible hearing loss. The lack of medical attention is partially due to people’s lack of awareness into the signs of hearing loss that can occur. However, over this time, as people lose more hearing, many of these people develop depression and forms of social anxiety. The APA report contributes such depression and anxiety to a difficulty with communicating, resulting in those with hearing loss withdrawing from their usual social activities.
The Negative Cycle of Depression and Isolation
Hearing loss has been found to have a “cascade effect” on the decline of individuals, especially those 60 and older. Recent studies suggest hearing loss contributes to self isolation, which increases symptoms of depression, and furthermore causes a lack of cognitive stimuli in people over 60. As a result, hearing loss also contributes to some cognitive decline. This cascade of effects reinforces itself to create a cycle of continued self isolation, depression, and cognitive decline (Dawes et.al., 2015).
In addition to the self perpetuating cycle of depression and isolation in those with hearing loss, other studies are finding that other medical conditions are associated with hearing loss, such as cardiovascular disease and strokes. These medical conditions are also associated with the self isolation that occurs due to the person’s hearing loss. In some cases, people with hearing loss who self isolate tend to develop poor diets and lack of physical activity, increasing their risks to heart disease and stroke (Friedmann, 2006).
As a person experiences hearing loss, self isolation occurs because the person has difficulty in social settings communicating with others. Many times, a person with hearing loss will feel left out of conversations and with time develop social anxiety. This social anxiety leads a person to fear social engagement in the future, which worsens the feelings of depression and loneliness.
Hearing Loss Awareness
As more research demonstrates the connection between hearing loss and mental conditions such a depression and anxiety, more people are coming together to advocate for the population of people going through hearing loss. Early treatment is vital to preventing a person from experiencing the negative cycles that are associated with hearing loss. If a person feels that their hearing has changed in anyway, the APA report suggests immediate conversations with primary care physicians. Scheduling regular hearing tests are helpful ways to track any sort of abnormal hearing loss.
The Hearing Loss Association of America is the largest group in the United States that promotes advocacy and policy efforts for people with hearing loss. The HLAA especially focus on aspects of early prevention as they highlight the fact that 20 percent of Americans have some level of hearing loss, which makes hearing loss the third most significant public health issue.
Maintaining Social Engagement With Hearing Loss
The HLAA also provides a great deal of resources and education into ways in which people can engage those with hearing loss. As well as programs and services for those going through hearing loss. With the increased association between depression, anxiety, and hearing loss, education for mental health professionals regarding hearing loss is vital to their work. In many cases, it is difficult for even mental health professionals to work with those with hearing loss, this can add to the isolation and lack of support felt by those with hearing loss. Another important consideration is that those with hearing loss often do not fall into the population of hearing impaired. Hearing impaired individuals often are members of various sign language communities, with the ability to engage in social activities and communicate. Individuals with hearing loss often do not know sign language and many develop the hearing loss later in life at a point when they do not feel open to learning a whole new language.
The HLAA provides numerous educational materials emphasizing that professionals should remain mindful of how they treat individuals with hearing loss. At times, a stigma can develop in which the person with hearing loss is often treated as if they do not understand or their cognitive capacities are delayed. This stigma can add a great deal to the person with hearing loss feeling isolated and outcasted. In some cases, the person with hearing loss can be misdiagnosed due to their inability to communicate with medical professionals.
Furthermore, the HLAA recommends learning about the resources that are available to ease communication with a person with hearing loss. From photo boards to technological software that allows the person with hearing loss to read spoken sentences, there is a growing number of resources being developed to improve hearing loss. The APA report findings on hearing loss and mental illness help to push for more pressure in enhancing hearing assistive technologies as well. Hearing loss is an increasing problem in the United States, with research now starting to act as a catalyst for advocacy and further attention.
Dawes, P., Emsley, R., Cruickshanks, K. J., Moore, D. R., Fortnum, H., Edmondson-Jones, M., ... & Munro, K. J. (2015). Hearing Loss and Cognition: The Role of Hearing Aids, Social Isolation and Depression. PloS one, 10(3), e0119616.
Friedmann, E., Thomas, S. A., Liu, F., Morton, P. G., Chapa, D., Gottlieb, S. S., & Sudden Cardiac Death in Heart Failure Trial (SCD-HeFT) Investigators. (2006). Relationship of depression, anxiety, and social isolation to chronic heart failure outpatient mortality. American heart journal, 152(5), 940-e1.
Hearing Loss Association of American. (2015). Who We Are. Retrieved from http://www.hearingloss.org/content/who-we-are
Newberry, J. (2015). Could hearing loss lead to mental illness? The Morning Ticker. Retrieved from http://www.morningticker.com/2015/08/could-hearing-loss-lead-to-mental-illness/