According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 40 million adults experience anxiety disorders across the United States. Among those in the deaf population, the number of anxiety disorders is higher because of language barriers between the hearing population and the deaf. People who are hard of hearing or deaf cannot follow verbal conversations as quickly and often result to lip reading to attempt to keep up. When this fails, it can trigger embarrassment, anxiety, or depression, which can be lasting.
According to the British Department of Health, deaf children and young adults are 1.6 times more likely to experience mental health problems than their hearing counterparts. For children born with hearing problems, these problems can appear very early on. A study performed in 1995 on the social rejection of children with hearing impairment showed that younger children with hearing impairment were more likely to experience social rejection than their older counterparts.
But the anxiety does not end when a child grows up. Failure in health care can also cause social anxiety issues. Just recently, a deaf British woman named Jasmine Jo posted a video on Facebook revealing a London hospital's unwillingness to communicate with her regarding her treatment. Though Jo was rescued by several British Sign Language (BSL) interpreters who watched her video, the anxiety experienced by deaf people attempting to seek healthcare still leads many deaf people to put off or cancel appointments for mental health reasons.
According to The Hearing Journal, anxiety triggers for the deaf and hard of hearing include:
- Entering an unknown office
- Meeting new people and struggling to hear
- Feeling concerned over cosmetic issues of hearing aids
- Realizing after hearing aid use that amplification does not solve all hearing difficulties
- Entering an unknown area
There is hope for hard of hearing people. A recent study in the United Kingdom attempted to translate anxiety diagnostic questionnaires into British Sign Language (BSL), the most common form of communication in the deaf population in that area.
Researchers translated three of the most common assessment measures: the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9), the Generalized Anxiety Disorder 7-item (GAD-7) scale, and the Work and Social Adjustment Scale (WSAS). To test the reliability these results, they used the Clinical Outcomes in Routine Evaluation—Outcome Measure (CORE—OM). After testing 113 deaf men and women, 25 of which reported problems with anxiety in the past year, the study found that the translation of the items on these questionnaires was reliable.
What Are These Tests?
- The PHQ-9 is used to diagnose depression and identify depression-related symptoms in patients
- The GAD-7 scale is an assessment which tests patients for Generalized Anxiety Disorder
- The WSAS measures five items that affect social impairment
- The CORE—OM shows the change in mental health over time during treatment
Similar studies in America can and have yielded positive results. A studyperformed in 2003 translated the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale into American Sign Language (ASL) and yielded reliable results. Another study in 2010 used a similar process to eliminate barriers between ASL speakers and physicians in taking the health surveillance survey. If this trend continues, health services, especially anxiety services, will be much more accessible to deaf people.
The anxiety and mental health concerns of the 38,225,590 people in the US that are either deaf or hard of hearing (13% of the population) can no longer be ignored. Studies like the one on BSL, which attempt to bridge the gap between the hearing and the hard of hearing, will be integral to addressing these needs.