Many mental health disorders, such as schizophrenia, are characterized by hearing phantom voices. Hearing impairments, in contrast, are characterized by the partial or full loss of the sense of hearing. There are cases, nonetheless, when phantom sounds are heard, too, as is the case with tinnitus but it isn’t considered a mental health issue.
So what then is the connection between hearing loss and mental health? In summary, hearing loss and tinnitus have been shown to increase the risk of mental illnesses! These include anxiety, depression and schizophrenia, as well as trigger disturbing periods of suicidal ideation and extreme anger.
Depression and Hearing Loss
In a study published in JAMA Otolaryngology Head & Neck Surgery, researchers found that more than 11% of the adult participants who reported hearing impairment also experienced symptoms of moderate to severe depression. In contrast, only 5.9% of the participants with typical hearing reported being depressed.
The results aren’t exactly surprising considering that hearing loss can make affected individuals feel socially awkward, if not socially inept, because of their inappropriate reactions during conversations. They may respond with inappropriate answers to questions they haven’t heard well but are too shy to be repeated. They may talk off-topic, or talk too loud to compensate for the hearing loss, or talk too little to avoid embarrassment.
Such struggles can eventually lead to a feeling of isolation that, in turn, feeds on depression. The more a person with hearing impairments feel isolated, the more likely the depression. Of course, there are other risk factors for depression but hearing loss can contribute to the increased risk.
Schizophrenia and Hearing Loss
Several studies have also pointed to the connection between schizophrenia and hearing loss. Schizophrenia, a serious mental disorder, is characterized by the abnormal interpretations of reality as well as by delusions, hallucinations and extremely disordered behaviors. Sadly, these symptoms have negative effects on daily functioning and quality of life.
The connection between these two conditions is supported by the social defeat hypothesis wherein feelings of loneliness and social exclusion predisposes high-risk individuals to schizophrenia. Such predisposition is underlined by the increased sensitization of the body’s dopamine system.
People with hearing impairments can feel social isolation, as previously noted, and social defeat. Emphasis must be made, nonetheless, that not all people with hearing loss will develop schizophrenia since there are other risk factors for the mental disorder. In the same way, not all schizophrenic patients have hearing impairments.
Hearing impairments are an invisible disability in the sense that these are either ignored or unnoticed by the affected persons. This can also be said for mental illness, especially as there’s a deep-seated stigma against depression and schizophrenia even in modern times.
But it’s crucial to look beyond the stigma and into the possible treatments for both hearing loss and mental health disorders! If you have issues with either of these conditions, you should seek professional help as soon as possible.
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