This blog was originally posted on Deaf Child Worldwide, on 18 July 2022
Why we’re focusing on improving the mental health of deaf children and young people
Our partners in South Asia have noticed that the deaf children and young people they work with often suffer from emotional and behavioural problems. Sometimes this is expressed through withdrawing and isolating themselves, other times it manifests in acting out aggressively. This observation is backed up by research which identifies deaf adults as having twice the likelihood of mental health problems than hearing people do.*
On top of this, in the low income areas where Deaf Child Worldwide operates, mental health services are practically non-existent.
With our partners, we have identified several reasons why the deaf children and young people we work with are experiencing depression, anxiety and other challenges. They stem from the language and communication barriers deaf children and young people in these communities face. Late diagnosis and no access to hearing technology means these deaf children have significant language delays and because they don’t get the support they need, their families, schools and communities struggle to communicate with them. The mental health impacts can be:
- Deaf children and young people face daily challenges in making themselves understood, even in their own family. This can understandably result in feelings of isolation loneliness and frustration.
- Often a deaf child is the only deaf person in their family or even community, which means they may not know others who have gone through the same experiences as them.
- Deaf children are sometimes bullied or experience stigma, discrimination or inequality because of their deafness.
- In stressful situations such as during the Coronavirus pandemic, we know that many deaf children have been anxious because no one has explained the situation to them.
Frontline workers need the right support
In South Asia our partners employ Deaf Role Models (known as DRMs) who are deaf adults that support children and young people with developing their language and communication skills and building their literacy. This can include giving sign language lessons, adapting schoolwork to make it more accessible, keeping them informed about wider issues in the community such as Covid-19 restrictions, which many deaf young people were not properly told about. DRMs work with hearing families of deaf children too and through their work demonstrate that deaf people can live ordinary lives, which many families surrounded by stigma, fear their children will never have.
Deaf children frequently share with DRMs their thoughts and feelings. Many of the DRMs grew up in similar circumstances and know what the children they work with are going through. DRMs often come across deaf children and young people being angry, frustrated or withdrawing from the world. In extreme situations deaf children may develop ongoing mental health issues if these are not addressed at an early stage. Intervention requires a level of skill which DRMs have not been trained in.
This is why Deaf Child Worldwide is working with Basic Needs India to train DRMs in mental health awareness. DRMs are learning how to provide a basic level of emotional well-being support to deaf children, and to recognise what symptoms are severe enough to be referred to professional mental health services. DRMs are learning about social support structures and holistic wellbeing.
The DRMs have begun their training and are already applying some of the things they’ve learnt:
‘‘Prior to this training we get disappointed if the children don’t learn but now we learn to use different method to create the interest among children.’’
‘‘We will make parents aware that mental health is also important.’’
‘’[I have learnt the] components people need to grow and develop, like a tree can’t grow by its own. It needs soil, air and water to grow.’’
Mental health training for DRMs is ongoing throughout 2022 and we will be assessing the outcomes through an evaluation with BNI. Our goal is that with the right tools, deaf young people and their families will know how to recognise and address mental health problems as they emerge and can recognise when more serious cases need to be referred to professional services.