already underrepresented in mental health research , the Deaf Community faces a unique set of challenges

From a global pandemic to the struggles of everyday life, mental health has come to the forefront of the national discussion. During these challenging times, mental health services need to be accessible to everyone and anyone, including the deaf community. Approximately 430 million people experience deafness or have hearing loss, making mental health and the deaf community a global priority. Additionally, in comparison to those who can hear, the deaf and hard of hearing are twice as likely to experience problems relating to mental health. The lack of ASL-specialized therapists makes it difficult for the deaf community to access mental health services.

Kelly Creasy is the principal at The Arizona State School for the Deaf and the Blind, a school that specializes in the education of visual and audio impaired students. She stated that accessibility plays a huge role in helping deaf people receive the mental health resources they need.

“People don’t always have access to American Sign Language,” stated Ms. Creasy. “Accessibility is a huge [problem], and that is going to be the biggest challenge. It is becoming such a need for students and children everywhere.”

The lack of ASL-specialized therapists makes it difficult for the deaf community to access mental health services.

Conclusively, the lack of social workers and therapists who specialize in ASL make it challenging for those trying to receive help. Furthermore, these difficulties are amplified due to language barriers and misdiagnosis. Deaf people are more likely to be misdiagnosed due to their unorthodox use of expression and mannerisms to communicate. These misunderstandings make it difficult for deaf children and adults to receive proper treatment and care. As a principal, Ms. Creasy has seen firsthand the struggle of providing mental health resources to her deaf students.

“People don’t always have access to American Sign Language. It is becoming such a need for students and children everywhere," said Creasy.

“We have kids that we refer to outside counseling services. That can be tough because they are not necessarily used to using an interpreter on a regular basis,” stated Creasy. “Sometimes they don’t even get the interpreter in person so that you may be meeting with a counselor in person, but then the interpreter is on a video screen.”

Ms. Creasy discussed the dire need for people who specialize in ASL within the mental health community. The deaf community experiences suicidal depression, schizophrenia, and insomnia at a higher level; the lack of trained ASL workers in the mental health field create a barrier for receiving assistance. According to a study published in 2012 by The Lancet, deaf adults or those with hearing loss, are 3 times more likely to report having psychotic symptoms when compared to hearing adults. In addition, people who are deaf may experience Minority Stress Theory, or a feeling of loneliness or isolation. These emotional responses are due to the deaf community living in a socially marginalized environment, directly impacting their physical and mental health.

As the mental health crisis continues to grow, influencers use their platforms to bring attention to everyday issues within the deaf community. TikTok influencer Scarlet May uses her page to address and role play the daily run-ins of a deaf person. By utilizing her platform, she helps make tough conversations about hearing loss easier to address. Using skits, comedy sketches, and videos explaining the difficulties of navigating life as a deaf person, she has amassed 4.2 million TikTok followers. May is not the only one bringing attention to the deaf community, however. Video Gamer Soleil Wheeler (also known by her EwOk game handle) is a deaf teenager who dominates the gaming world. As a popular gamer, she uses sign language to communicate with fans as she streams online. She has become so popular within the gaming world that her followers started learning sign language to talk to her during her live streams. Influencers like May and Wheeler bring awareness to the capabilities and daily experiences of the deaf community in an uplifting fashion.

Healthcare professionals and experts assert that the deaf community has to be involved in the discussion when addressing mental health and treatment options. Although medical advances have come a long way, experts agree that more universal tools would aid healthcare workers in greatly enhancing communication when working with deaf patients or those who live with hearing loss. With more people bringing attention to the challenges within the deaf community, coupled with the mental health community prioritizing this as an essential aspect of mental health, specialists affirm that a better environment can be created moving forward.

Written by Nia Neal-Smith

This article has been republished from Renewed Awareness Magazine.

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