• Samantha Baines, author of Living with Hearing Loss and Deafness, shares her experience of therapy and the barriers that deaf people face in getting mental health support

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Did you know that people with hearing loss and deafness are more than twice as likely as people with full hearing to experience mental health difficulties? As a deaf person myself, this doesn’t surprise me. Facing constant barriers in society, going through life with an invisible disability, paying out of our own pockets for extra technology like hearing aids and flashing fire alarms and doorbells that don’t just rely on sound does take its toll. 

Being deaf can not only be expensive, it can be isolating, confusing and overwhelming. Whilst overall I do love being deaf and fully accept my deaf identity, there have been parts of my deaf journey that I have found particularly challenging. It’s not that being deaf itself is challenging, it’s reacting to an audist society with constant barriers to access, which is challenging. 

If you are born deaf you may have the support of a deaf family, or you may have to fight for your communication needs to be met. Many deaf children have hearing parents that don’t use sign language and encourage their child to ‘get by’ by trying to listen and lipread. 

In children, as well as adults, the attention and energy needed to constantly strain to listen and pay attention to people’s lips causes concentration fatigue. For example, I know that if I have a social occasion to attend on a Thursday night for my job, that I will need much of Friday to recover and I will be unable to complete more than basic tasks. 

On top of the fatigue from being forced to ‘hear’, there is the emotional fatigue that comes with constantly having to advocate for yourself, your deaf status and your communication needs. You might think that these difficulties affect a small group of the population but the Royal National Institute for the Deaf states that there are over 12 million people in the UK that have some form of hearing loss of deafness. Twelve million is certainly not ‘niche’. 

It’s not just barriers in daily life, there can also be barriers to getting the help and support we need. Having an accessible platform to find help and finding a therapist who has had deaf awareness training can make a huge difference when reaching out for support. 

I have been in and out of therapy for most of my adult life and I recognise the huge positive impact it has had on my mental health. Whether it was working through the death of my father in my twenties, my divorce in my early thirties or my hearing loss diagnosis in between, I found talking therapies incredibly useful. 

Processing my grief and sounding out my thoughts with a trained professional has created real change for me. I have had anxiety for years and currently take daily medication for it and my therapy has given me practical solutions to use in real world scenarios that I am so grateful for. However, at times it has been difficult to access these services. As a lipreader and hearing aid wearer, phone conversations can be really difficult for me, especially if I am not used to the person's voice or they have an accent. Having an option to email/text or Zoom rather than relying on phone calls can be such a relief and for the profoundly deaf is the only option, as a phone call would be impossible. 

Facing me when talking, having good lighting, not covering your mouth or sitting in front of a window so you are in silhouette are some basic practises that can make communication easier for lipreaders. Having accessibility protocols in place, for example booking BSL interpreters or having an interpreter on your staff, and clearly explaining these protocols on a website or in an introductory email is also an excellent idea. 

Having a line in any correspondence asking if the person has any accessibility or communication needs can also be the perfect way to open up a conversation. The weight of constantly having to start an accessibility conversation, explain your needs and educate can be a huge burden for the disabled community as a whole. If any organisation can lift some of this weight by doing their own work and due diligence ahead of time it makes a big difference. 

So yes therapy can be accessible for deaf people and should be accessible. As long as the right access is put in place, then myself and the rest of the deaf community can get the mental health support we require. Why wouldn’t you make your practise more accessible? After all with deaf people twice as likely to experience mental health issues, we could be your biggest clients. 

Samantha Baines is the author of Living with Hearing Loss and Deafness