IM this article to a friend!

August 14, 2004

Deaf lack adequate mental health services

From: Toronto Star, Canada - Aug 14, 2004

Ottawa conference in need of support


When Carole Willans-Théberge started looking for a therapist to help her battle depression, she had no idea her search would one day become part of a mission to change the world.

Most people could simply ask for a referral from a family doctor or trusted friends. But Willans-Théberge, a successful lawyer, was also coping with a severe hearing loss.

She wanted someone who would understand the loneliness and isolation that go hand in hand with growing up hard of hearing, someone who would know the importance of speaking clearly, mouth plainly in view, so she could "speech read."

"I was lucky," she says.

"I finally found the one therapist in Ottawa who was also hard of hearing."

Willans-Théberge, who also is president of the Canadian Hard of Hearing Association, recovered from the depression but she couldn't forget how difficult the search had been.

Together with René Rivard, head of education services at Reach Canada, a not-for-profit community group dedicated to improving the quality of life for people with disabilities, she is one of the key organizers of this country's first conference on mental health and deafness.

"It's time to speak out, to stop sweeping things under the rug and put them up front in people's faces," she says.

The conference, scheduled for Sept. 9 to 11 in Ottawa, aims to reach out to service providers and the more than 1.5 million Canadians with significant hearing loss, including those who are both deaf and blind.

It has attracted an impressive list of speakers from around the world. Together they hope to establish vital links and share knowledge to get Canada moving

But that doesn't mean getting the message out has been easy.

Suicide and addiction rates among Canadians with hearing difficulties are much higher than those in the population as a whole, notes Willans-Théberge. Yet mental health services for the hearing impaired are virtually non-existent, she adds.

When Ryerson University professor Kathryn Woodcock and her husband Miguel Aguayo, a human resources consultant, analyzed data from Statistics Canada's 2000 community health survey, they found people classified as deaf were more than twice as likely to report they suffer from depression.

Yet a small survey by Aguayo found even social workers with significant hearing loss had received very little training in how to counsel people who had lost hearing. "We have to become more proactive," says Bob Alexander, a community health officer with the City of Toronto and president of the Ontario Chapter of the Canadian Hard of Hearing Association.

The impact of hearing loss on communication can be devastating to self-esteem, says Reach Canada's Rivard, who initially learned American Sign Language (ASL) because it "looked like fun" and has been working to improve mental health services for more than a decade.

Yet even though there are "many horror stories," telephone crisis intervention services rarely include TTY numbers, he says.

(In the Toronto area, TTY numbers listed include the Assaulted Women's Helpline (1-866-863-7868), the Distress Centre (416-408-0007) and Alcoholics Anonymous (416-487-5062.)

Nor has it been easy getting funding for next month's conference. The Law Foundation of Ontario and Social Development Canada have been generous, Rivard says. But the event is still some $80,000 short of what it will take to provide the necessary interpreters, interveners, closed captioning and other services.

Let's hope somebody steps up to the plate.

For more information, check

Write: Helen Henderson, Life Section, Toronto Star, One Yonge St., Toronto, Ont. M5E 1E6. E-mail:

Copyright Toronto Star Newspapers Limited. All rights reserved.