Hearing Loss and AnxietyNov 19, 2022
Since the pandemic began, we have been having more and more important conversations about mental health, especially around our children. You may wonder how hearing loss impacts mental health. As of 2019, about 20% of the world’s population has some form of hearing loss. A little over 15% of those people are kids.
What is anxiety?
The American Psychological Association defines anxiety as an emotion that is characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts, and physical changes. It is also considered a persistent heightened state of alert. Sometimes this can be a normal reaction to stressful situations and sometimes spirals into a disorder in itself.
What does it look like?
Anxiety can trigger physical symptoms such as nausea, dizziness, muscle aches, insomnia, and trouble concentrating, which may impact students’ quality of life and ability to perform and participate in school activities.
Hearing loss and anxiety
Language deprivation is a significant cause of delayed communication and social-emotional skill development. When our students struggle to understand basic concepts and communicate effectively because of lack of access to language, frustration and significant mental health needs are a great concern.
Our students with hearing loss worry about a lot of things throughout their day: What if the sub forgets to turn on captions? What if Tilly is talking about me at the lunch table? What if I misunderstand and laugh at something serious? Missing social cues and constant bluffing can be embarrassing and socially isolating for deaf students, and many deaf students I have encountered have shared that they always feel “on edge”, wondering what kind of challenges might come up, like Artie references in this video.
Why is this important?
Half of mental health conditions start by age 14, and many go undetected and untreated. Supporting our deaf learners’ mental health, as well as promoting positive emotional, behavioral, and psychological well-being is vital in ensuring that our students grow up to become healthy adults with less risk of adverse experiences as adults.
What can I do now to support my DHH students?
Research shows the following tips can help a child with hearing loss reduce feelings of anxiety:
- Peer support: kids with hearing loss benefit from a connection with peers to reduce isolation
- Self-identity: learning more about themselves and the experience as someone with hearing loss
- Resilience training – helps if integrated into schools
- emotional/behavioral management training – helping parents learn tool to support emotional regulation to create a home environment that feels safe, positive and promotes well-being. Also training children in school to help them fill their toolbox with tools to support future challenges they might face.
- physical activity – in research activities ice skating and dance therapy, but could be many things adapted to different contexts
- Supportive staff and advocates that can share information about working with children with hearing loss and reduce stigma and discrimination
- Training in communication methods, communication facilitating, and openness to different types of communication
- Consideration of environments children learn in
- Inclusion of visual aids and cues to support understanding as well as role-plays, storytelling, and feedback from peers.
(Scherer N, Bright T, Musendo DJ, O'Fallon T, Kubwimana C, Eaton J, Kakuma R, Smythe T, Polack S. Mental health support for children and adolescents with hearing loss: scoping review. BJPsych Open. 2021 Dec 6;8(1):e9. doi: 10.1192/bjo.2021.1045. PMCID: PMC8693903.)
When it comes to family gatherings, especially during the holidays, the Online Itinerant has some trainings on how to support a child at home to reduce anxiety and stress that large family events can cause. Check out the trainings 'Tis the Season of Gatherings; Turning Stress into Success for Your Child with Hearing Loss and The Truth About "Summer Fun" for Children with Hearing Loss", both inside the FRIEND Academy from The Online Itinerant. Want to learn more about these trainings? It is available free for professionals in the Professional Academy Gold program as well as for families inside the FRIEND Academy.
In summary, it's important to identify that anxiety as a result of hearing loss is a real thing. Being aware of it is the first step to resolution. Opening up the conversation and working with your child or student to support their feelings will help reduce anxiety that can be caused from hearing loss.