Hearing loss is a common condition, with over 15% of American adults experiencing some sort of hearing damage. In fact, it is a safe bet to assume you or someone you know has experience with hearing loss in some fashion. What you may not know is that this common condition is much more than just a physical condition, with equally impactful mental health complications. Hearing loss is often perceived as a physical impairment due to an actual breakdown of cells inside the ear or visible damage, but these physical signs can have even deeper emotional ramifications. Depression, social isolation, anxiety, and even higher rates of suicide are the challenges facing many in the deaf and hard of hearing community. Fortunately, new studies and guidelines are attempting to help audiologists and patients navigate the emotional health aspects of hearing loss.
For patients with mild to profound hearing loss, the stigma that comes with their condition is enough for some to avoid social activities. As Adam Feldman, an editor for Medical News Today and a hearing aid user, explains “Every pang of guilt or embarrassment after saying “what?” or “huh?” might lead to another night when you don’t risk going out to socialize. You end up distancing softly-spoken colleagues, friends, and even family members, simply because the effort it takes to process their speech can become draining.”
Feldman’s experience is not uncommon, as numerous studies link frustration, anxiety, depression, and social isolation to hearing loss. A national survey conducted by The National Council on the Aging found that those over the age of 50 and suffering from hearing loss were more likely to experience depression, anxiety, and paranoia, which lead to them being far less likely to live social lives. For some, the difficulty is enough to just stay home.
With social isolation, many more mental health complications can arise. Stemming from a lack of support and healthy interaction from others, depression is widely reported for those suffering from hearing loss (11.4% of aged 18 or older), nearly doubling the average of those without hearing loss (5.9%). To combat this, hearing health professionals are beginning to screen for signs of depression when evaluating a patient’s hearing, searching for signs that can be devastating to a patient’s way of life such as fatigue, lack of appetite, and social isolation.
For those suffering from hearing loss, it is important to understand that you are not alone. The link between hearing loss and mental health is real, with millions of Americans experiencing these difficulties on a daily basis. To ensure you are getting the help you need, seek the advice from an audiologist or health care provider to form a collaborative treatment plan that treats not only your physical health but emotional health as well. Paired together, hearing aids and mental health therapy that utilizes medication can be an effective combination to not only help protect your hearing but your quality of life.