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"How Can We Prioritize Deaf Youth's Mental Health Needs?"
By Madison Kovaleski
November 26, 2021
"How Can We Prioritize Deaf Youth's Mental Health Needs?"
According to Cambridge University Press, “About 40% of deaf children experience mental health problems, compared with 25% of their hearing peers” (Sessa & Sutherland, 2018). In 2021, the stigma around mental health has significantly denigrated; conversing about mental health has become less taboo, and resources have become more accessible to anyone suffering from a mental illness. However, when I hear someone talking about mental health, the discussion emphasizes the needs of young, white, Hearing women. Teenagers from marginalized communities -- specifically Deaf children-- have had their needs overlooked due to social, historical, and cultural barriers. The intersectionality between these groups makes it even less likely that these teenagers will receive the mental and emotional support they need. Deaf teenagers are included in this growing statistic for young people who aren’t prioritized in regards to mental health education. So, I ask you, on a societal issue dominated by Hearing people, how can we create a space where Deaf adolescents feel seen and understood?
To start with, mental and psychological disorders are categorized in a multi-axle system. Axel I conditions include clinical problems that can easily be diagnosed. One who has a disorder in this category can be treated with therapy if one is susceptible to it. The Axis II classification is used for personality disorders which usually derive from childhood. Although permanent, these illnesses often require vigorous treatment; people with these conditions are often unreceptive to getting help which makes it even more difficult to live with. Even after being diagnosed, Axis II disorders serve as a ‘social block’ for the way people with these disorders navigate the world (Rachita, 2014).
According to Sandra Mueller, “findings reveal that the rate of Axis I mental health disorders does not differ between hearing and deaf populations, but Axis II and childhood behavior problems are three to six times more prevalent for deaf persons. Deaf children and adolescents exhibit higher levels of behavioral and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorders than the general population” (2006). Even when this is the case, teenagers with Axis II disorders are more likely to be diagnosed with Axis I disorders due to a language barrier. Research shows that 75% of Deaf individuals are dysfluent in ASL. Consequential to this, “90% of deaf children are born to hearing parents and these children may not have received any usable language input during critical language acquisition periods of brain development”(Glickman & Black, 2006). As a result, children are unequipped with the ability to communicate their feelings to a doctor. On top of this, most clinicians are unable to communicate in ASL. A majority of health professionals diagnose their patience through verbal communication. Exaggerated facial expressions and body language are crucial to communication for Culturally Deaf People. If doctors are foreign to working with Deaf patients, they won’t understand the needs the patient is trying to communicate. ASL is not a 1-to-1 translation to spoken English. The author of “Do You Hear Voices? Problems in Assessment of Mental Status in Deaf Persons With Severe Language Deprivation”, Neil Glickman, describes Deaf patients as doing an “empty nod” as a “yes” to a question they do not understand (2007). Clinicians mistake this as the patient providing a genuine “yes” therefore, they don’t get the help they need. As a result, patients feel disconnected and mistrust their doctors, which deteriorates their motivation to search for the help they need.
Deaf adolescents receive more applicable support from Deaf medical professionals or counselors, but this shouldn’t be the case. I want to be clear that I am not discouraging Deaf youth to seek support from a Deaf person. It’s very beneficial in many aspects like having someone to talk to who understands your struggles as a Deaf person. In “Counseling Deaf College Students: The Case of Shea”, the author depicts a college student explaining that they struggle with the ideology of Hearing people being superior to Deaf people (Whyte, 2008). Of course, it would make sense for a Deaf student to share this with a Deaf adult because they’d both understand the Deaf experience. However, it’s crucial Deaf patients don’t refuse to see Hearing mental health professionals because they feel uncomfortable. A course should be mandatory for all doctors covering a spectrum of different types of communication; this will make their services more friendly and accessible for all people. Hearing clinicians should become more aware of ASL so they can directly communicate with Deaf patients. Along with this, mental health professionals should grasp a basic understanding of body language so the communication between the patient and doctor is more effective (Savino, 2014). These steps can create a safer environment for the patient when they feel understood by the adult. The doctor needs to remain patient with the child to successfully help adolescents in whatever situation they are in. Mental health organizations also need to include Deaf activists in the mental health conversation to ensure they are representative of everyone. Allocating a voice for Death Youth provides an opportunity for their needs to be heard on a larger scale.
Sessa, Ben, and Hilary Sutherland. “Addressing Mental Health Needs of Deaf Children and Their Families: the National Deaf Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service.” The Psychiatrist, vol. 37, no. 5, 2013, pp. 175–178., doi:10.1192/pb.bp.112.038604.
Rachita. “Difference between Axis 1 and Axis 2.” Difference Between Similar Terms and Objects, Difference Between, 25 Mar. 2014, www.differencebetween.net/science/health/disease-health/difference-between-axis-1-and-axis-2/.
Mueller, Sandra. “Mental Illness in the Deaf Community: Increasing Awareness and Identifying Needs.” Mental Illness and the Deaf, Lifeprint, Oct. 2006, www.lifeprint.com/asl101/topics/mentalillness.htm.
Black, P. & Glickman, N.S. (2006). Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education. 11(3): 303-321.
Glickman, N. (2007), Do You Hear Voices? Problems in Assessment of Mental Status in Deaf
Persons With Severe Language Deprivation. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 12(2),
127-147.Retrieved November 26, 2021, from https://jdsde.oxfordjournals.org/content/12/2/127
Whyte, A. (2008), Counseling Deaf College Students: The Case of Shea. Journal of College
Counseling, 11, 184-192
Savino, Jennifer. (2014, May 17). Unique Considerations For The Deaf Needing Mental Health
Care. Lifeprint Library. ASL University. Retrieved November 26, 2021:
Also see: Deaf Mental Health Care Considerations
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