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Mental Health Issues in the Deaf Community

Fears and Solutions


Updated July 23, 2006

by Kimberly Read

A research study of cultural and linguistic barriers to mental health evaluated the participants' views of mental health institutions and practitioners. This study found that many deaf people have a fear of being incorrectly committed because they are unable to communicate with the staff. One participant is quoted as saying, "Even if I were just asking for directions at the information desk [of a psychiatric hospital], miscommunication could lead to my being committed mistakenly ... I don't want to go there, even for a visit!" (Steinberg, July 1998). This study further indicated that participants felt professionals erroneously consider a nominal level of communication to be adequate. Nathan A. Shapira, in his evaluation of bipolar disorder in inpatients with prelingual deafness, found that those making diagnoses often emphasized appearance over documented symptoms and collateral information (Shapira 1999).

Some Solutions
Examination of these studies clearly indicates that it is important to overcome these barriers and shortcomings in the mental health resources for the hearing impaired. While the remedy for this is most certainly a challenge, there are solutions. Hearing-impaired people should be encouraged to consider careers in the mental health field. Mental health professionals should secure more translators to work with the mentally ill. Furthermore, clinicians who have little or no experience working with the hearing-impaired should use extreme caution and seek second opinions when diagnosing the deaf. In addition, research and effort is needed to bridge the language barriers which now make it so difficult to communicate.

For comprehensive information about and support for the hearing-impaired, visit the About.com Deafness/Hard of Hearing website with Guide Jamie Berke.

Works Cited

Holt, J. A. (1994). Standard achievement test, 8th ed: reading comprehension subgroup results. Am Ann Deaf, 138, 172-175.

Shapira, N. A. MD, PhD, DelBello, M. P. MD, Goldsmith, T. D. MD, Rosenberger, B. M. IC/TC, Keck, P. E. Jr. MD. (1999). Evaluation of bipolar disorder in inpatients with prelingual deafness. The American Journal of Psychiatry, 156(8), 1267-1269.

Steinberg, A. G. MD, Sullivan, V. J. MA, Loew, R. C. PhD. (1998, July). Cultural and linguistic barriers to mental health service access: the deaf consumer's perspective. The American Journal of Psychiatry, 155(7), 982-984.

Steinberg, A. G. MD, Lipton, D. S. PhD, Eckhardt, E. A. CSW, Goldstein, M. PhD, Sullivan, V. J. MA. (1998, November). The diagnostic interview schedule for deaf patients on interactive video: a preliminary investigation. The American Journal of Psychiatry, 155(11), 1603-1604.

Waldstein, R. S., Boothroyd A. (1995). Speechreading supplemented by single-channel and multichannel tactile displays of voice fundamental frequency. Speech Hearing Research, 38, 690-705.

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