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May 5, 2007

Depression affects 40% of deaf as system fails them

From: Sunday Herald - Glasgow,Scotland,UK - May 5, 2007

By David Christie
Campaigner criticises long waiting lists and lack of support for sufferers

Long waits for hearing aids and poor health service support systems are contributing to high levels of depression among deaf Scots, a leading campaigner has warned.

Delia Henry, director of the Royal National Institute for the Deaf (RNID), estimated that "as many as 40%" of the 758,000 Scots with a hearing impairment are struggling with depression and criticised the current system's failure to address the link between deafness and mental health.

Henry said: "We have this shocking state of affairs in Scotland that the mental health services we have do not respond effectively at all to deaf and hard-of-hearing people.

"This isn't a criticism of the front-line staff but they don't have the skills or expertise for people who have additional problems. We have to work with policy makers and start making this a priority, to get the recognition that deafness is significantly related to mental health."

Despite a four-year, £19.3 million investment in 2003 by the Scottish Executive for NHS boards to recruit more audiology staff and improve their equipment, there remains a national shortage of audiologists, with some boards taking double the recommended maximum of 26 weeks from GP referral to hearing-aid fitting.

In February it was reported patients in the Elgin area were waiting an average of 99 weeks, while in the Western Isles waiting times are close to one year as audiologists have snubbed moving to the islands.

"Unfortunately, the NHS tends to treat people for one thing and what we need to look at is a holistic approach," added Henry. "By the time people end up on waiting lists for a hearing aid they are already suffering with depression and this just makes it worse as staff don't appreciate what they are going through."

In 2003, transport shift manager Bill Jones woke up from a nightshift to find his hearing was muffled, but dismissed the problem as a cold. After courses of antibiotics and steroids, a consultant informed Jones, from Cowdenbeath, that he was permanently deaf and nothing more could be done to help him.

"It was a complete nightmare" said Jones. "From that day on, every single thing in my life became a struggle. I wasn't given any advice or told who to turn to.

"Up until I turned deaf I was outgoing, the life and soul of the party. Then the depression hit me. I avoided conversations because they were so difficult and sitting around the dinner table became nigh on impossible with so many people talking at the same time."

Struggling to cope, Jones spiralled deep into depression threatening his marriage, his job - Jones was signed off sick for six months - and even his life. He added: "I was ready to kill myself. As far as the doctors are concerned, you have gone deaf so they give you a hearing aid and then they think everything is fixed, but it's not.

"When you lose your hearing you lose your confidence, self-esteem, independence and basically the will to carry on. It wasn't until I met a doctor who was deaf himself before I started getting any help."

According to Scottish Association for Mental Health (SAMH) Chief Executive, Shona Neil, even when a problem is discovered, the Scottish provision - with no psychiatrists, psychologists or community psychiatric nurses having even a basic working knowledge of sign language - is scarce.

Neil said: "At a time when we are talking about social inclusion, we've got real exclusion for deaf people with mental health problems. Deafness is an isolating condition, and if you can't get access to a hearing aid then it is hardly surprising that people end up experiencing secondary depression or mental health problems as a result."

8:02pm Saturday 5th May 2007

©2007 newsquest (sunday herald) limited.