Link Between Untreated Hearing Loss & Mental Health

Posted by Cynthia Ryan

A growing body of research indicates that people with untreated hearing loss may be at an increased risk of depression.

Depression is a common mental disorder that affects an estimated 350 million people worldwide, according to the World Federation for Mental Health (WFMH). By 2020, depression will be the second leading cause of world disability (WHO, 2001); and by 2030, it is expected to be the largest contributor to disease burden (WHO, 2008). In the United States alone, major depression affects 15 million American adults, or approximately 5 to 8 percent of the adult population in a given year, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reports.

Depression can be a devastating illness, but it also can be successfully treated. In fact, NAMI reports that between 80 and 90 percent of people diagnosed with major depression can be effectively treated and return to their usual daily activities and feelings. Many types of treatment are available, and the type chosen depends on the individual and the severity and patterns of his or her illness.

Unfortunately, however, depression—like hearing loss—often goes unrecognized and untreated.

National Depression Screening Day serves as a supportive community initiative to connect the public with mental health screenings. Through this program, individuals have the opportunity to take a free, anonymous mental health screening online or locate an in-person screening site at Mental health screenings are an easy way for people to monitor their health and learn about local treatment options.

The Better Hearing Institute (BHI) provides a quick and confidential online hearing check at to help people determine if they need a comprehensive hearing test by a hearing healthcare professional.

The Link Between Unaddressed Hearing Loss and Depression

The link between unaddressed hearing loss and depression is compelling. For example, a large-scale study by the National Council on Aging (NCOA) found that people 50 and older with untreated hearing loss were more likely to report depression, anxiety, anger and frustration, emotional instability and paranoia, and were less likely to participate in organized social activities than those who wore hearing aids. The degree of depression and other emotional or mental health issues also increased with the severity of hearing loss.

A recent study, published in Age and Ageing, the journal of the British Geriatrics Society, concluded that older, hearing-impaired adults are significantly more likely to experience emotional distress and social engagement restrictions directly due to their hearing impairment. In fact, researchers found that a hearing handicap increased the odds of depressive symptoms and low self-rated health by 80 percent and 46 percent, respectively.

But hearing loss and related mental health symptoms don’t just affect older people. An Italian study, published in Acta Otorhinolaryngologica Italica, involved working adults aged 35 to 54 who were affected by mild to moderate hearing loss in both ears. In this study, those with hearing loss reported higher levels of disability and psychological distress—and lower levels of social functioning—than a well-matched normal control population. The hearing-impaired individuals experienced reduced ordinary social activities, increased relational problems with family and friends, and greater emotional difficulties at work. They also showed higher levels of anxiety, depression, interpersonal sensitivity, and hostility.

What’s more, a survey among 2,401 adults aged 18 and older released by Australian Hearing, found that people who suffer from hearing loss may be at increased risk of developing the debilitating effects of depression. The survey found that 60 percent of those with hearing loss had displayed symptoms associated with depression. And almost 20 percent demonstrated at least three key symptoms of depression. Specifically, 52 percent had displayed increased irritability and frustration; 22 percent had trouble sleeping or experienced restlessness; and 18 per cent showed a loss of interest or pleasure in most activities.

Hearing Loss Facts

  • Despite the fact that the vast majority of those with hearing loss could benefit from hearing aids, hearing loss remains one of the most commonly unaddressed health conditions in America today.
  • When individuals expend so much energy on hearing accurately, their ability to remember spoken language suffers as a result. And their cognitive function suffers. Recent studies even suggest that hearing loss may be a risk factor for dementia.
  • More than 34.5 million Americans have some degree of hearing loss—approximately one in 10 individuals.
  • Among Americans ages 46 to 64, about 15 percent already have hearing problems.
  • Sixty percent of people with hearing loss are below retirement age.
  • Sixty percent of people with hearing loss are male.
  • Only 15 percent of physicians today screen their patients for hearing loss during physical exams.

How Hearing Aids May Help

Studies show that when people with hearing loss use hearing aids, they experience significant improvements in quality of life and decreased depressive symptoms, anxiety and improved perceptions of emotional stability; have significantly higher self-concepts compared to individuals with hearing loss who do not wear hearing aids; and experience significant improvement in their functional health status.

A study published in the Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics examined the effects of hearing aids on cognitive function and depressive signs in people over the age of 65. Researchers found that after three months of using a hearing aid, all patients showed significant improvement in their psychosocial and cognitive conditions.

The study concluded that due to the significant improvements shown in psychological state and mental functions, for elderly people with age-related hearing loss, hearing aids are a good solution for helping to improve their life conditions. What’s more, in its own study, the Better Hearing Institute (BHI) examined the impact of hearing aids on specific quality of life factors that affect mental and emotional well-being. More than half of the more than 1,800 hearing aid owners surveyed said they attributed their use of hearing aids to improvements in their relationships at home, their ability to join in groups, and their social life. Close to half said they saw improvements in their self-confidence, sense of safety, feelings about themselves, and sense of independence, while one third indicated their mental and emotional life improved.

About Depression

Source: The World Federation for Mental Health

Many people have days or even weeks that go by when they may be feeling down, unhappy or even depressed. People often talk about having the “blues.” But unlike the blues, depression doesn’t just go away. It usually gets worse.

Depression is a serious medical condition that affects the body, mind and behavior. It affects the way you eat and sleep, the way you feel about yourself, the way you think about things. It can also affect your physical health.

Depression is a brain disorder that can affect people of all ages, races, religions, and incomes worldwide. Depression can come in many forms, with varying symptoms and experiences with the illness.

Types of Depression

Depression is a brain disorder that can take many different forms. Some people will experience one episode of depression in their lifetime; others will have recurrent bouts of depression; and others may be chronically depressed. Some episodes of depression can begin suddenly with no apparent cause while others may be associated with a difficult life situation, such as a death in the family. C

linically, there are three primary types of depression, with very specific diagnostic criteria. Major depression, also known as unipolar depression; minor depression, often known as dysthymia, a less severe and often chronic depression; and bipolar disorder, also known as manic depression, where periods of depression cycle with periods of mania.

The Signs and Symptoms of Depression

Source: National Institute of Mental Health

People with depressive illnesses do not all experience the same symptoms. The severity, frequency, and duration of symptoms vary depending on the individual and his or her particular illness.

Signs and symptoms include:

  • Persistent sad, anxious, or "empty" feelings
  • Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
  • Irritability, restlessness
  • Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable, including sex
  • Fatigue and decreased energy
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions
  • Insomnia, early-morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping
  • Overeating, or appetite loss
  • Thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts
  • Aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems that do not ease even with treatment. 

How to Help Yourself

Source: National Institute of Mental Health

If you have depression, you may feel exhausted, helpless, and hopeless. It may be extremely difficult to take any action to help yourself. But as you begin to recognize your depression and begin treatment, you will start to feel better.

To Help Yourself

  • Do not wait too long to get evaluated or treated. There is research showing the longer one waits, the greater the impairment can be down the road. Try to see a professional as soon as possible.
  • Try to be active and exercise. Go to a movie, a ballgame, or another event or activity that you once enjoyed.
  • Set realistic goals for yourself.
  • Break up large tasks into small ones, set some priorities and do what you can as you can.
  • Try to spend time with other people and confide in a trusted friend or relative. Try not to isolate yourself, and let others help you.
  • Expect your mood to improve gradually, not immediately. Do not expect to suddenly "snap out of" your depression. Often during treatment for depression, sleep and appetite will begin to improve before your depressed mood lifts.
  • Postpone important decisions, such as getting married or divorced or changing jobs, until you feel better. Discuss decisions with others who know you well and have a more objective view of your situation.
  • Remember that positive thinking will replace negative thoughts as your depression responds to treatment.
  • Continue to educate yourself about depression. 

Where to Get Help

Source: National Institute of Mental Health

If you are unsure where to go for help, ask your family doctor. Others who can help are listed below.

  • Mental health specialists, such as psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, or mental health counselors
  • Health maintenance organizations
  • Community mental health centers
  • Hospital psychiatry departments and outpatient clinics
  • Mental health programs at universities or medical schools
  • State hospital outpatient clinics
  • Family services, social agencies, or clergy
  • Peer support groups
  • Private clinics and facilities
  • Employee assistance programs
  • Local medical and/or psychiatric societies
  • You can also check the phone book under "mental health," “therapy,” "health," "social services," "hotlines," or "physicians" for phone numbers and addresses. An emergency room doctor also can provide temporary help and can tell you where and how to get further help.

Source: The Better Hearing Institute


Accessed 09/13/2012

For more information about the psychological aspects of vestibular disorders and coping strategies, visit the Educational Resources page on the VeDA website.

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