Hearing-related conditions and suicide
International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day is a day dedicated to the friends and families of those who have died as a result of suicide. It is an opportunity for those left behind to come together for healing and support.
A lot of effort has been made to inform, implement, and strengthen suicide prevention strategies by communities, NGOs, families, and governments. Although this article does not directly contribute to the healing and support of families and friends who have lost those close to them to suicide; this article has been written to contribute to the pool of knowledge regarding the understanding of suicide risks among Hard-of-hearing (HH) and Deaf (D) people to inform suicide prevention strategies worldwide. It is hoped that this article would shed some light to both families and institutions on suicide risks among HH and Deaf people.
Suicide is a public health crisis across the globe. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide is defined as a successful attempt in ending one’s life. In this article, suicide and suicide behavior will refer to any suicide related behavior (e.g. suicide ideation).
In the general population, mental health is a major risk factor for suicide. Deaf individuals have been reported to suffer higher rates of psychiatric disorders, thus the rates of suicide can be expected to be higher amongst this group of people. What exacerbates the problem is the difficulty in accessing mental health services by Deaf and HH people
Hearing-related issues (for example, tinnitus) have been found to be a major contributing factor in 29% of suicide. In addition, D and HH people have been reported to have higher rates of characteristics associated with suicide such as emotional distress and unemployment. This is not surprising as D and HH individuals have relatively lower socioeconomic status, low educational attainment, and unstable employment compared to hearing people.
A study by Boyechko found high rates of suicide behavior among college students who were D or HH. In the Boyechko study, 40% of the students reported having felt that their life is not worth living during their lifetime. 44% had experienced suicidal thoughts during their lifetime, and 30% have attempted suicide. Although this study found high rates of suicidal people among D and HH college students, these results were not compared to suicidal behavior rates in hearing college students.
In a presentation by Dr Fox and colleagues, it was reported that 8.3% of deaf college students attempted suicide in the past 12 months as compared to hearing college students (3.1%). Contrary, suicidal ideation in the past 12 months was higher in the hearing group (14%) compared to deaf college students (12%).
Consequences of untreated hearing-related issues
The consequences of hearing-related issues have been documented in literature. Untreated hearing loss can lead to mental, socio economic, and emotional repercussions. For both children and adults, untreated hearing loss can have social repercussions, resulting in them feeling isolated and potentially being bullied. These factors have a significant impact on their self-esteem and educational attainment. This is especially concerning as social isolation or loneliness is one of the main risk factors associated with suicide. A narrative review of literature showed that both living alone and the feeling of loneliness were significantly associated with suicide. Both suicide ideation and suicide attempt were significantly impacted by the feeling of loneliness or social isolation.
Another factor that is associated with hearing loss is bullying. Specifically in the youth, the CDC has reported that bullying behavior and suicidal-related behaviour are significantly related. Thus, youth who are bullied are at a greater risk of suicide-related behavior than those who are not bullied.
There’s ample research that reports the association between depression and hearing loss. One study showed that the chances of developing depression increased by 5 percent with every decrease in hearing ability. Another study showed that 1 in 5 adults with hearing loss have symptoms of clinical depression. Hearing loss has been shown to lead to mental health, psychological and emotional issues.
Consequences of untreated/ hearing loss lead to characteristics that are associated with elevated suicide risks.
It is of importance that families, friends, institutes, and health care professionals understand suicide in D and HH people. The association between hearing-related issues and suicide should be researched more, to better undertand the relationship. Mental health services should be made readily available to D and HH people. In addition to this, hearing-related difficulties and communication should be addressed in this population, from a diagnostic, rehabilitation, treatment, and counselling perspective.
The integration of hearing screening services in suicide screening is of utmost important to help in prevention of suicide cases related to hearing loss.