The Better Hearing Institute (BHI) announced today that it is participating in World Mental Health Day on October 10th by educating the public on the link between hearing loss and depression. This year’s World Mental Health Day focuses on the close association of depression with chronic physical illnesses and calls for integrated care. Depression can be a disabling illness that seriously impacts overall health.
“When left untreated, hearing loss often leads to isolation, depression, and other emotional conditions that can affect both mental health and quality of life,” says Sergei Kochkin, PhD, executive director of BHI. “Yet, hearing loss remains one of the most commonly unaddressed health conditions in America today.”
The link between unaddressed hearing loss and depression is compelling. For example, a large-scale study by the National Council on Aging (NCOA) found that people 50 and older with untreated hearing loss were more likely to report depression, anxiety, anger and frustration, emotional instability and paranoia, and were less likely to participate in organized social activities than those who wore hearing aids. The degree of depression and other emotional or mental health issues also increased with the severity of hearing loss.
A recent survey released by Australian Hearing, part of Australia’s Department of Human Services, found that people who suffer from hearing loss may be at increased risk of developing the debilitating effects of depression. As reported in its 2008 Annual Report, the survey found that 60 per cent of those with hearing loss had displayed some of the symptoms associated with depression. It also found that almost 20 per cent of those with hearing loss demonstrated at least three key symptoms of depression. Specifically, 52 per cent had displayed increased irritability and frustration; 22 per cent had trouble sleeping or experienced restlessness; and 18 per cent showed a loss of interest or pleasure in most activities.
"Hearing loss is not a harmless condition to be ignored or left untreated,” says Kochkin. “It has tremendous impact on your life. And if left unaddressed, it can have serious emotional and social consequences."
It’s important to understand that in the vast majority of situations, hearing aids can help the individual hear better and thereby alleviate the conditions that may lead to depression when hearing loss is left unaddressed. Studies have shown that hearing aid wearers experience significant improvements in quality of life and decreased depressive symptoms; have significantly higher self-concepts compared to individuals who do not wear hearing aids; and their functional health status improves significantly after three months of hearing aid use.
In fact, the NCOA study found that those who used hearing aids to address their hearing loss had a reduction in depression and depressive symptoms; improved interpersonal relationships, including greater intimacy; experienced less anger and frustration; enhanced emotional stability; decreased paranoid feelings; reduced anxiety symptoms; reduced social phobias; greater belief that they were in control of their lives; reduced self-criticism; improved cognitive functioning; improved health status; reduced incidence of pain; and enhanced group social activity.
Today, there are more than 34 million people in the United States with hearing loss—roughly 11 percent of the U.S. population. And over the last generation, hearing loss has increased at a rate of 160 percent of U.S. population growth.
“More Americans than ever before are suffering with hearing loss,” says Kochkin. “That means greater numbers are leaving their hearing loss unaddressed—simply because they don’t understand how significantly it affects their quality of life and mental health.
“Unaddressed hearing loss has become an entrenched public health issue that is closely linked to depression, especially in older individuals. World Mental Health Day is an extremely important acknowledgement of the inter-relatedness of physical and mental health. We need our healthcare gatekeepers to recognize the importance of addressing both in an integrated healthcare setting.”
The World Federation for Mental Health established World Mental Health Day in 1992 to provide an annual opportunity for public education about current issues and improving well being. It is the only annual global awareness campaign to focus attention on specific aspects of mental health and mental disorders.
The World Federation for Mental Health encourages local, national and regional authorities and organizations to observe World Mental Health Day on October 10th with events and programs that focus on “Mental Health and Chronic Illness: The Need for Continued and Integrated Care.” Campaign materials prepared by the World Federation are available for download on its website at www.wfmh.org.