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Prevalence and patterns of mental illness among deaf people attending counselling services in the UK

Abstract

Background: Deaf people may be systematically excluded from life in a society 'designed' for the hearing and those deaf people with mental health problems face even greater isolation. Social workers potentially play huge roles in bridging the divide between the world of the deaf and the hearing world. However, not much is known about the patterns and prevalence of mental health problems in deaf accessing counselling, clinical and other social services.

People who are deaf appear to suffer common mental health problems like emotional and behavioural difficulties to a greater extent than the hearing population although they are no more likely than the general population to suffer the more severe mental health problems like psychosis. People with audiological impairments are also more likely to internalise mental health problems for a diversity of reasons than are those with normal hearing. The implications of these findings both for mental health service design and the professional practice of social workers and counsellors who work with the deaf are myriad.

First, mainstream mental health services need to make significant shifts in the way they work. They would either need to adapt their practice to accommodate audiologically impaired people, especially those who only communicate through the BSL. This may involve making specific efforts to bring on board deaf members of staff as well as training staff in the BSL and in Deaf awareness. Secondly, mental health service design needs to function at a more grassroots level, enhancing access to the deaf at community entry points. Finally, social workers need to increasingly demonstrate awareness of the specific details of mental health issues in deaf people and genuinely attempt to bridge the gap between these people and their hearing world.

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