Mental health and hearing loss are closely correlated.
Have you canceled dinner plans in a busy restaurant because you were concerned about whether you would be able to follow conversation amidst the noise? Have you smiled in response to a question you did not hear clearly because you were embarrassed to ask the speaker to repeat themselves? Have you felt alone and separated from the world around you because you are unable to enjoy sounds in your environment, and partake socially? You are not alone.
Hearing loss is a common diagnosis amongst the American population, affecting almost 1 in 8 people in the United States. The effects of hearing loss reach far beyond just limited accessibility to auditory information from our environment. Instead, it cripples a person from being able to participate socially and complete tasks independently and fruitfully, and robs them of their identity, impacting on their emotional and mental well-being.
What is mental health?
World Health Organization (WHO) defines mental health as “a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and can contribute to his or her community.” This definition of mental health was further expanded by researchers who have identified three key components of mental health, which are,
- Emotional well-being: This includes feelings of being happy, being interested, and satisfied with one’s life.
- Psychological well-being: This includes contentment with most aspects of one’s personality, being able to effectively manage daily responsibilities, and having good relationships with loved ones, friends, and colleagues.
- Social well-being: which includes social contribution, which relates to having something positive to contribute to society; social integration, which relates to feeling part of the community; social actualization, which is the belief that society is becoming a better place for individuals and social coherence, which is how we relate ourselves to society to understand how it works.
Can a hearing loss impact on your mental health?
You can recognize from the definition of mental health how a hearing loss can negatively impact on your emotional, psychological, and social well-being. A study conducted by the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) reported that individuals with a hearing loss are more likely to be depressed than those without a hearing loss. Other research has shown that people with hearing loss have higher levels of stress and anxiety, especially in cases where tinnitus is present. Tinnitus has also been identified as a cause of suicidal thoughts. Indicative that hearing health and mental health are closely related.
Can mental health difficulties cause problems with hearing?
Underlying mental health difficulties are not a direct cause of a hearing loss. Hearing losses are either present from birth or acquired because of aging, being exposed to noise, the use of medications toxic to the hearing system, etc. However, mental health issues may impact on an individual’s desire and ability to seek help for their hearing loss, utilize their hearing assistive devices correctly, and manage their hearing loss in various environments. Mental health problems can also affect the concentration abilities of individuals, making listening tasks more difficult. In this way, an underlying mental health difficulty does not cause the loss, but instead, can worsen the presence of an already existing hearing loss or cause dissatisfaction with hearing aid use.
Can hearing aids assist with mental health issues?
If your emotional, psychological, and social well-being are impacted because of your hearing loss, hearing aids may assist. Hearing aids are programmed specifically to help your hearing loss and provide access to auditory information in the environment. The extent to which a hearing aid can provide access to most of the sounds you have been unable to hear is dependant on the severity of your hearing loss. Since using a hearing aid will provide access to sounds, you may experience an improvement in your mood and overall quality-of-life, helping decrease your anxiety and frustrations that may have been experienced due to living with a hearing loss.
What to do if your mental health is affected by your hearing loss
Many of the mental health difficulties experienced by individuals with hearing loss are often due to hearing losses that go undiagnosed, the use of hearing aids that are not programmed correctly, and a poor understanding of the loss and how to manage their environment.
- If you or a loved one is experiencing difficulties following conversation, hearing in competing background noise, or have lost the ability to hear sounds you once could, it is important to be proactive and speak to a hearing health professional.
- If you have been fitted with a hearing aid and feel as though it as not working as well as it used to, your hearing loss profile may have changed and your hearing aid would need to be readjusted.
- If you are a new hearing aid user, feelings of frustration are common as you are new to the process. Pace yourself and slowly progress to using your hearing aids more frequently with each passing day. Turn this new process into a lasting experience by taking note of the new sounds you hear daily. This will help motivate you.
- Your ability to maximize your hearing aid experience is dependant on being able to use them effectively in the different environments you may experience. Take time to read through the information booklets and support materials that were provided to you at your hearing appointment. These will help you understand your hearing aid better, and how to cope with the loss daily.
- Educate your family and friends and encourage them to be part of your hearing experience. Hearing loss often leaves one isolated and alone, hence it is important to maximize this opportunity by spending it with those closest to you and educating them on how they can help you on your journey to hearing health.
- Mental health difficulties are serious and often go undetected. If you are feeling symptoms of sadness, loneliness and have lost your appetite and willpower to participate in activities that you once enjoyed, you should seek help. Visit the Mental Health America network for resources or to speak to a professional that can assist you.
Assistance for hearing and hearing-related queries can be provided through the LexieHearing platform. Lexie Hearing offers a quick and reliable hearing test that provides you with your hearing results in only 2 minutes, and our hearing experts are available to provide advice.
The impact of hearing loss cannot be understated and is often broad and profound, leading to feelings of social isolation, loneliness, and frustration. It is important to be proactive and recognize the effects of hearing loss on mental health and seek help in time.