Not many people realise that losing your hearing can have a major impact on your general health and in particular your mental health.
Often the onset of profound deafness is gradual. Because of this we learn new coping mechanisms at each step. We slowly stop making phone calls because itís too hard, we pull out of social events, even family parties, because itís too embarrassing, often boring and frequently down right hurtful. At work we donít attend meetings because we canít contribute and are therefore considered as not participating (not important). Itís only when one day we sit up and look we find how far down the slippery slope to isolation we have come. We take stock and realise how much around us we have been missing and recognise what this has done to our confidence and self-esteem.
Research in 1999(2) by the Council of Aging found that in 2,300 hearing impaired adults, depression was a likely outcome if they did not wear hearing aids. Hearing is more than just hearing sounds. Hearing is about communication and about the ways environmental sounds enrich life. Without the interaction with our world, the way we know it, many of us slip into clinical depression. We are grieving for our loss but itís more than that. Itís the isolation we feel because we can no longer participate. We lose self-esteem because we answer inappropriately or we have to have someone constantly repeat to us what is going on and this causes us to lose confidence in ourselves.
Recently I had the pleasure of hearing Jenny Brand-Miller present at a conference. Jenny is totally professional, a published author, an academic and well respected within her peer group. This lady oozes self-confidence. Yet just a few years ago she felt she would have to retire. She has a profound hearing loss and was no longer coping in the academic world. She was suffering from loss of self-esteem because she felt her peers were seeing her as stupid because she couldnít participate in the same way as them. She was afraid of making a fool of herself when she could no longer hear her PhD students discussing issues with her. This resulted in depression. The only way forward was to regain her hearing (which she did with a cochlear implant).
In Australia, there is no active screening for hearing loss in adults. What screening there is, is usually undertaken by the hearing aid manufacturers only when someone fronts to their clinic with a hearing problem. Because most people refuse to acknowledge they have a hearing loss, there is an average of 6 years between when they need help with hearing and when they actually seek help. This is 6 years too late and often hearing has deteriorated faster than it should have. (Use it or lose it!) Only one in three people who could use a hearing aid actually do.
My experience is not unique. I had slipped into isolation and depression. My self-esteem was at a low when I lost my job because of my hearing loss. I worked menial jobs at rates considerably lower than my education and experience just to make ends meet. One day on the job, personnel from the company where I had been General Manager visited. As one of the data entry staff I was invisible, these people did not even see me. Iím sure you can imagine how that felt, how this kind of experience contributed to loss of self-esteem. Having a Cochlear implant was not about the technology, the features or the sound I was getting it was the benefits I got back when I could hear again. Once more my confidence came back and my self-esteem rose Ė simply because I could understand what was happening in my world.
(1) Cochlear celebrates milestones http://www.abc.net.au/pm/stories/s258750.htm Accessed 27/5/08, Radio interview with Jenny Brand-Miller
(2) Depression in older adults with hearing loss http://www.asha.org/about/publications/leader-online/archives/2004/041116/f041116c.htm Accessed 27/5/08