World Hearing Day

Silent Struggle: The Impact of Hearing Loss on Mental Health

As some of you may know, I suffer from profound hearing loss. This topic is timely, as today is World Hearing Day, founded with a mission of “Changing mindsets: Let’s make ear and hearing care a reality for all!”

Hearing loss has impacted my life in many ways for so long that I don’t remember what it was like to have full use of my hearing. For anyone unfamiliar with the different types of hearing loss, they include:

  • Conductive (related to problems in the outer or middle ear),
  • Sensorineural (involving damage to the inner ear or auditory nerve), and
  • Mixed (a combination of both).

I fall into the latter category, and my hearing loss affects both ears. The loss is profound — in fact, it’s at the highest level possible before being considered deaf. Unfortunately, my type of hearing loss is not reversible. However, I pick up many sounds my natural hearing cannot by wearing hearing aids. It’s certainly not a perfect solution, but it helps.

Last month, my husband and I visited Jamaica for our annual trip to Sandals Montego Bay. Each week, the resort invites a handful of vendors who can sell items to the guests staying on the property. I was looking for artwork for my brother’s new house and found someone selling beautiful pieces on the main beach. The artwork vendor had a thick accent, and I struggled to hear her correctly. I let Nathan do the talking, as my designated “ears” in situations like that. However, the woman kept asking me questions. With each question, I would rely on Nathan for the translation. She then asked me if I spoke English. I had to laugh. That was a new one for me!

No matter how long I’ve dealt with hearing loss, it doesn’t get easier. There are a lot of adjustments I must make to my lifestyle to accommodate the loss — both physical (e.g., to overcome lack of balance and tinnitus) and mental (such as feelings of anxiety and social isolation).

3 Ways Hearing Loss Has Impacted My Mental Health

Here are three ways hearing loss affects my everyday life from a psychological standpoint.

1. Avoidance – My initial inclination in any scenario where my hearing will be a challenge is to avoid the situation. For example, I steer clear of doctors’ offices, particularly those that require masks, because I rely on lip reading to pick up what my hearing cannot. Another instance that demonstrates my avoidance is when we were in Jamaica and were given a phone to communicate with our butler. I could hear the phone ring, but I could not understand what our butler was saying, even on speaker. (Normally, I use a Bluetooth device that connects directly to my hearing aids.) So, I let my husband handle the butler’s phone calls. I also avoid movie theaters and any entertainment venues where I cannot easily access subtitles.

2. Social Anxiety – When I cannot avoid situations that impact my ability to hear, I feel anxious — at the gym, for example. While hearing aids are water resistant, they are not waterproof. Therefore, I don’t wear them at the gym. Sometimes, people try to talk to me there, and I feel overwhelming anxiety because I cannot hear them. The same goes for other places and situations, like large group Zoom meetings, buffet-style restaurants, and conversations with people who have strong accents. I struggle to understand, and I worry about what I am missing.

3. Lack of Confidence – Ultimately, my social anxiety chips away at my self-confidence. When I’m in uncertain situations in which I have little control, I feel uncomfortable. I recently discussed this powerless feeling during a podcast about respect. It’s hard to remain confident when hearing loss and anxiety are ever-present because I know they affect how I come across to others. It makes me doubt myself and feel apprehensive about opportunities that would otherwise excite me. For example, I’m attending a full-day regional Vistage Executive Summit next Tuesday. Although I enjoy learning and professional growth, the thought of being in a bustling environment with so many people makes me nervous. I’m aware it might affect how I present myself, which is unfortunate. Nonetheless, I’m determined to step out of my comfort zone. I refuse to let this challenge hinder my personal and business growth.

Silver Linings

Despite the challenges posed by my hearing loss, I’ve managed to enhance my abilities in areas where I have greater influence. One positive outcome is my heightened awareness of my surroundings. Due to my difficulty with hearing, I’ve become adept at observing other cues to grasp the dynamics of a situation. I excel at reading social atmospheres and discerning whether discussions are constructive or tense by observing people’s body language. My enhanced capacity to recognize non-verbal signals enables me to approach interactions with greater sensitivity and empathy and see what people with normal hearing might overlook.

More Advocacy Needed for Those With Hearing Loss

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the World Health Organization (WHO) Director General, said, “Hearing loss has often been referred to as an ‘invisible disability,’ not just because of the lack of visible symptoms, but because it has long been stigmatized in communities and ignored by policy-makers.”

This is certainly true. It’s not easy to tell if someone has hearing loss. Because of that, I believe some people think I am just air-headed or dumb when I misunderstand a conversation. More importantly, not enough is done to support people with hearing loss and its impact on our quality of life and ability to do our jobs.

Few insurance companies cover hearing aids, dismissing them as cosmetic rather than functional necessities. For instance, my hearing aids, priced at $6,800, are paid for out of pocket. I receive no reimbursement, and typically, I need to replace them every five years. Consequently, countless individuals are forced to forego hearing aid technology due to financial constraints, significantly compromising their ability to navigate daily life and perform effectively in the workplace.

Spread the Word

On World Hearing Day, it’s crucial to highlight the impact of hearing loss on mental health. Living with profound hearing loss affects every aspect of life. We must break the stigma and advocate for awareness, accessibility, and support. Together, let’s amplify our voices for change, not just on World Hearing Day but EVERY day. Because everyone deserves to be heard.

About the Author

Rachel Strella is the owner and founder of Strella Social Media, a digital marketing agency specializing in social media management. With a degree in Communications and a background in journalism, Rachel leverages her expertise in storytelling across various platforms including her blog, social media channels, and syndicated content. Her dedication to entrepreneurship and small business growth extends beyond her professional endeavors, as she actively mentors and advises aspiring business owners. She identifies herself as a chronic multitasker, a master connector, a podcaster, and embraces her dichotomy as a high-D introvert!