You’ve stopped going to sit-down restaurants. It wasn’t that you didn’t like the food. The problem was that it became too hard to understand all the conversations. Your friends think you’re being anti-social, but that’s not the case. You aren’t trying to ignore them; you’re just taking some time to deal with your hearing loss.
Sometimes, though, avoiding your friends is just the beginning. Those who are hard of hearing or deaf often have a tendency to isolate themselves, and that can have profound psychological effects over the long run. The sooner you treat your hearing loss, the less you’ll have to worry about these psychological effects sneaking up on you.
Common mental health issues related to hearing loss
Losing a sense, even partially, can be very disorienting and depressing. So as hearing impairments progress, you become more prone to some physical and mental health issues. Here are just a few:
You stay home more often. You don’t answer the phone, You don’t go out. It’s not as though you intend to pull away from everyone. It’s just that communicating suddenly becomes so challenging. You don’t have the energy for it.
This type of social isolation is quite common with untreated hearing loss. Unfortunately, once the isolating tendencies begin, lack of social contact can start to produce or exacerbate other mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety. The longer social isolation continues, the more serious the long term effects may be.
According to one study, people with hearing loss are 50% more likely to suffer from depression than those with healthy hearing. Not every case of depression is caused by social isolation, of course, but researchers think there is a strong link.
With depression, feelings of sadness can persist for weeks. For example, in a recent interview, singer Huey Lewis discussed feelings of depression and suicidal ideation after Ménière’s Disease made it impossible for him to hear music the way he used to.
Sometimes hearing loss can change brain chemistry, resulting in depression. And sometimes, as with Lewis, changes to your lifestyle can alter your outlook. It’s vital to talk to your doctor about your depression symptoms and seek out appropriate treatment.
You may also experience anxiety as a result of or in association with your hearing loss. To a certain extent, that’s to be expected: you’re charting new waters and you aren’t entirely sure what to expect. It’s all too easy, though, for short-term, acute anxiety to turn into a chronic problem.
Long-term anxiety can be characterized by trouble sleeping, persistent negative thoughts, and panic attacks. There might even be a tightness in your chest that you can’t explain. That kind of thing. As with depression, there are treatments available for anxiety that can successfully help you manage symptoms.
Whether because of added strain or extended disuse or certain neural pathways, there’s ample evidence to suggest that hearing loss is directly related to certain forms of cognitive decline, up to and including dementia. That’s not to say that hearing loss causes dementia, but the two are linked.
Not everyone who has hearing loss will experience profound psychological effects. Likewise, not everyone with mental illness experiences hearing loss. But hearing loss does put you at a higher risk for these things. In many instances, successful treatment of hearing loss can minimize, slow, or dismiss altogether many of these mental health concerns.
With the help of your hearing aids, you might feel more confident engaging in conversation (and, therefore, going out to lunch), preventing the kind of social isolation that can lead to other mental health issues. A healthier social life and a stronger support network can help minimize depression symptoms. One benefit begets the next.
Hopefully, that means you can again start enjoying time with your friends–and meals at your favorite restaurant.