Hearing health and
mental health are more interconnected than you might realize. Learn how those
with hearing loss can heighten their mental health and combat depression
symptoms by wearing hearing aids.
Mental health affects just about every aspect of our lives, from thoughts and feelings to day-to-day activities. At some point or another, you’ve probably felt anxious, irritable, fatigued or sad, which may have impacted how you interacted with the outside world. Sometimes when we don’t get enough sleep, we’ll be in a bad mood the following day. If we’re nervous about a situation that has an unpredictable outcome, we might feel anxious.
These are relatable human emotions. But when they last for two weeks or more, it may be a sign of something more serious. Untreated hearing loss can actually increase the likelihood of mental health complications like depression. Regular hearing tests and seeking treatment can help.
When people experience depression, everyday actions like cooking a meal, spending time with friends and getting exercise can be extra difficult. Individuals may face prolonged feelings of sadness, have low energy, a loss of appetite and even a loss of interest in activities that would normally bring joy, leading to social isolation and withdrawal. Depression is common—it affects more than 16 million adults in the United States alone.
Risk factors for depression are complex, involving a combination of genetic, biological, environmental and psychological elements. While some conditions that contribute to depression, such as untreated hearing loss, can be mitigated through behavioral or lifestyle changes, others aren't so easy to combat.
The circumstances of this disorder vary from person to person (and often aren’t preventable), but a variety of treatment options can help ease the symptoms. For example, if someone with depression has untreated hearing loss, they can use hearing aids to improve quality of life. Today’s advanced hearing devices not only create a vibrant sound experience, they also have the capacity to improve mental health for those with hearing loss and depression.
More than 9 million Americans older than 65 are affected by hearing loss (along with another 10 million people ages 45 to 64). For this group of those 65 and over, the risk of having both hearing loss and depression is higher among those who do not use hearing aids.
A study from the American Academy of Audiology found that within this demographic, people who didn’t receive hearing help reported higher rates of sadness and more frequently had the perception that others were angry with them for no reason. These people were also much more likely to experience social isolation and social withdrawal.
Hearing impairment can make it difficult to communicate with loved ones, follow the flow of conversations and feel comfortable in social settings. Those with hearing loss may worry they are missing out or that they can't hear others talking to or about them. All of these experiences can lead to sadness, lonliness, irritability, mild paranoia and more.
With hearing aids, people are able to can communicate more easily with others, which naturally helps with feelings of loneliness and improves relationships. They’ll have a better opportunity to meet new friends, enjoy shared activities and will tend to feel more independent. The previously mentioned study saw such significant differences before and after hearing aid treatment that family members found behavioral changes even more noticeable than the participants themselves.
Tinnitus—a condition where people hear a buzzing or ringing in the ear—is distracting and unpleasant, sometimes making it impossible for people to go about their daily activities. Evidence shows a strong association between tinnitus and depression (in addition to anxiety).
While tinnitus can’t be cured, modern hearing aids have programs designed to alleviate tinnitus symptoms with static noise, ocean waves and Notch Therapy. Tinnitus depression can also be treated with cognitive behavioral therapy.
If you have a family member, friend or other person in your life who has difficulty hearing, you might be eager to help. Hearing aids can be life changing in many ways. They can introduce people to laughter, music and all the beautiful sounds in between. But keep in mind that some people may be unenthusiastic or even unaware about the hearing assistance they need.
Instead of thinking about how to get someone to wear a hearing aid, think about how you can bring up the subject in a gentle manner that shows how much you care. Listening to their feelings and giving them your full attention will go a long way. Simply showing your concern—and being supportive, no matter how they respond—could help with potential feelings of social isolation or social withdrawal.
As you think about how to tell someone they need hearing aids, consider using these open-ended phrases to start the conversation:
When untreated hearing loss and depression are simultaneous, addressing the issue with hearing aids can often relieve some of the distress. Even so, some additional measures can help improve mental health—whether untreated hearing loss is a factor or not.
Telling yourself positive affirmations, writing down what you’re grateful for, helping other people and opening up to someone you trust are positive (and easy!) ways to foster good mental health. Being active (think going for a walk or going to the gym), getting a full night of quality sleep and limiting caffeine and alcohol intake can also support mental balance and promote a healthy mood.
These practices certainly help create a solid foundation, but sometimes professional assistance is needed to treat mental health issues. The National Alliance on Mental Illness is a great resource where people can find additional support.