Not Hearing Things: Mental Health with an Auditory Impairment

Not Hearing Things - Auditory Mental Health

According to recent data from the National Council on Aging, hearing loss affects nearly 61 million Americans aged 12 and over, with about 16% of those aged 20 and over reporting some degree of hearing loss. It can happen in one or both ears, and it may come on gradually or suddenly. In any case, hearing loss can negatively impact an individual’s mental health, making it important for them to find coping strategies and resources that support their well-being.

Introduction: Living With an Auditory Impairment

Whether it’s due to aging, a genetic syndrome, an illness or damage to the ear, hearing loss can impact the way you navigate the world as well as your mental health. We rely heavily on our hearing to interpret and interact with the world around us, whether we’re following directions in an unfamiliar situation, staying alert to potential hazards or meeting a new person. Understandably, losing that key sense can create disorientation and frustration.

Along with making it difficult to track conversations or enjoy a favorite song, hearing loss can affect your confidence and cause you to alter your daily routines, future plans and social calendar.

For many people, impaired hearing can cause embarrassment and confusion. Effective communication becomes increasingly challenging as the individual has difficulty following conversations, especially in a noisy environment. In some cases, it can lead to social isolation and a loss of enjoyment in everyday hobbies and activities.

Unsurprisingly, these can significantly affect an individual’s mental health. The good news is that while hearing loss may be unavoidable for many people, there are things they can do to support their quality of life.

Understanding the Psychological Impact of Hearing Loss

As is the case with any health issue, hearing loss doesn’t occur in a vacuum; it carries a psychological impact that affects other aspects of a person’s overall wellness, including their mental health. Some common feelings that accompany hearing loss include:

  • Embarrassment or shame
  • Loss of confidence
  • Loss of self-esteem
  • Paranoia and anxiety
  • Inadequacy
  • Frustration

These feelings can occur independently, or one may lead to another in a domino-like effect. When a person’s ability to communicate becomes limited due to the loss of their hearing, simple conversations can feel exhausting. Even when they’re around other people, they may experience loneliness when they’re unable to interact at the same level or in the same way they’re accustomed to. Ultimately, they may cause the individual to pull back from social situations and isolate themselves from others as a way to avoid uncomfortable interactions, confusion and shame.

One study reflects the challenges people with hearing loss face, indicating a strong link between hearing loss and depression. This connection can be cyclical, with a person experiencing social isolation that leads to depression, which in turn, brings social isolation, low moods, and a loss of confidence and self-esteem.

Similarly, a review of studies that involved over 17,000 people living with hearing loss found a connection between anxiety and hearing loss. It observed that the prevalence of anxiety among those with hearing impairment was higher than in the general population, and the severity of their anxiety symptoms reflected the severity of their impairment. In one study, for example, researchers found that older adults living with mild hearing loss had a 32% greater chance of having anxiety, and those with moderate to extensive hearing impairment had a 59% greater chance of reporting anxiety-related symptoms.

Without proper treatment, an individual may find themselves avoiding simple tasks, staying away from social situations and experiencing loneliness, even when they’re with friends and family. They may also experience fears and concerns regarding their future. It becomes easier to avoid the disorientation and frustration that may accompany everyday tasks, which may lead to the individual feeling uncertain about their quality of life going forward.

Coping Strategies for Managing Mental Health with an Auditory Impairment

Fortunately, various coping strategies can help individuals navigate the challenges and emotions that come with auditory impairment.

Professional counseling

Professional intervention for depression and anxiety can help individuals cultivate the tools they need to work through their uncomfortable emotions in a healthy, constructive way. During one-on-one counseling sessions, the person can safely express the feelings and frustrations they experience and explore strategies to help them with hearing loss.

Support from peers

Many hospitals and community centers offer support groups for specific challenges such as hearing loss, giving individuals the opportunity to share frustrations and strategies with others who may be experiencing similar situations. If an in-person support group isn’t available or desired, there are numerous online forums and virtual support groups where individuals can connect with others.

Self-care activities

When an individual’s sense of self-worth takes a hit, it can be difficult to remember the importance of prioritizing self-care. However, participating in hobbies, getting regular exercise, and practicing mindfulness techniques can support an individual’s resilience and quality of life.

Educating others

Those living with auditory impairments often experience shame and embarrassment. As a result, it may not feel natural for an individual to self-advocate and educate others not only about their condition but also about how they want to be supported. However, this is key to maintaining strong social connections as needs evolve. Many people find it helpful to have a candid conversation with friends and family about the challenges they’re experiencing and how they prefer to communicate, along with the things that make communication more difficult.

Finding communication alternatives or aids

Due to biases or embarrassment, some people may be reluctant to find out what hearing aid options they have. In fact, the average person lives with hearing loss for seven years before seeking treatment for auditory impairment. However, research shows that those who use hearing aids regularly have a much smaller chance of developing depression. Other studies observe a significant drop in depressive symptoms within the first three months of using a hearing aid.

Broaden your horizons

In some cases, those experiencing hearing loss find an entire community – one that doesn’t assume auditory abilities – by learning sign language.

Accessing Support and Resources for Psychological Well-Being

Hearing loss can greatly impact how an individual navigates the world, makes decisions, and connects with others. In addition to getting professional support from mental health care professionals and finding emotional support and practical advice through local support groups, many people find it helpful to get support through nonprofit and government organizations. These may include:

  • The American Academy of Audiology
  • The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association
  • The Hearing Loss Association of America
  • The Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing
  • The Better Hearing Institute
  • U.S. Preventative Services Task Force
  • Hearing Loss Association of America
  • The Association of Late-Deafened Adults

Through these resources, individuals can find support, practical assistance and personalized advice on protecting their well-being while addressing hearing loss.

Conclusion: Embracing Resilience and Self-Care in the Face of Auditory Challenges

Whether it’s an unavoidable result of aging, a genetic predisposition or an unexpected outcome of an injury or illness, hearing loss can profoundly affect an individual’s mental health. Fortunately, individuals can combat the depression and anxiety that often accompany auditory challenges by connecting with professional or peer support services, educating their loved ones about their condition, and practicing self-care. These can serve as reminders for the individual of their value and help them build confidence and resilience as they learn to advocate for their needs and find new ways to connect with the world around them.