Seven Connections Between Mental Health and Hearing Loss
Though the connection may not be noticeable initially, hearing loss and mental health are closely connected. Both are also widespread among the Canadian population, with hearing loss affecting 60% of Canadians aged between 19 and 79 and 20% experiencing a mental health problem or illness. This means that whether directly or indirectly, we’re all affected by both hearing loss and mental health but read on to find out more about the connection between the two.
1. What’s the difference between Mental Health and Mental Illness?
Mental health and mental illness are often used interchangeably, but there’s an important distinction to be made between them.
The Canadian Mental Health Association defines mental health as “a state of well-being.” It’s something we all have, and sometimes it’s in better shape, sometimes worse – just like our physical health.
Mental illness, however, is described by the American Psychiatric Association as “changes in emotion, thinking or behaviour (or a combination of these)… associated with distress and/or problems functioning in social, work or family activities.” Mental illness strikes when our mental health takes a turn for the worse, and any mental illness is seen as a medical condition, just like any physical illness we might face.
2. Which are the most Common Mental Illnesses in Canada?
The two most prevalent types of mental illness registered worldwide are depression and anxiety disorders. According to Statistics Canada, about 5.4% of Canadians are affected by major depression, whereas 4.6% are affected by anxiety disorders.
3. Most Common Type of Hearing Loss
Though hearing loss is usually gradual, starting off very subtle before deteriorating, it usually affects higher frequencies before it’s experienced with lower ones. The most prevalent kind of hearing loss found among adults is called sensorineural, commonly caused by damage to tiny hair cells in our inner ears.
This damage can be caused by various factors, including loud noises, and physical conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and thyroid disease. This damage to hair cells can also cause tinnitus and sensitivity to loud sounds.
Statistics Canada (2021) determined that the hearing loss experienced by adults in each age group is as follows:
4. Symptoms of Hearing Loss
As hearing loss comes on gradually, it’s essential to watch out for early signs and symptoms to ensure you detect your hearing loss as early as possible and can seek the treatment you need. Early symptoms of hearing loss include:
- Difficulty following conversations
- Asking people to repeat themselves
- Speaking louder than normal
- Thinking that other people are mumbling and not speaking clearly
- Difficulty understanding people talking with background noise
- Having the TV volume turned up loud
5. The psychosocial effect of hearing loss
Many reports have found that people with hearing loss often wait as long as 7 to 10 years before seeking the medical help they need. Over this time, symptoms go from unnoticeable to mild to severe as hearing deteriorates, and people may well find their lives affected by their loss of hearing. This may include withdrawing from social situations because they find managing them awkward or challenging.
With social withdrawal often leading to total isolation, untreated hearing loss has been shown to increase feelings of insecurity, depression, and anxiety. In fact, a 2014 study carried out by the JAMA found that adults with hearing loss were over twice as likely to suffer from depression.
6. Hearing Loss as a Modifiable Risk Factor for Depression
While risk factors increase your likelihood of developing an illness, if they’re classed as “modifiable,” it means that treating them could decrease your chances of developing the health problem in the long run.
With hearing loss classed as a risk factor for depression and anxiety, it then follows that treating hearing loss could reduce our risk of depression. In fact, a 2020 study by the JAMA found that people who used hearing aids registered with decreased psychological distress when compared with those with hearing loss that went untreated.
7. Hearing Loss, Depression and Anxiety as Modifiable Risk Factors for Dementia
A study published by The Lancet in 2020 identified 12 risk factors for dementia which, when treated, were shown to prevent or even delay cases of dementia by as much as 40%. The most significant factor identified was midlife hearing loss.
The study also found that the most effective way of protecting those with hearing loss from developing dementia was the use of a hearing aid. In fact, the paper is backed up by countless other studies that show the same results: that rates of dementia increased among those with untreated hearing loss but not for those with hearing aids. This may be helped by social contact being a factor shown to reduce dementia, which, as we have discussed, reduces among those with untreated hearing loss.
Mental health, illness and hearing loss are all complex, interrelated issues, but when detected and caught early, effective treatment plans can be put in place to help those in need. Trained audiologists can run tests to quickly diagnose any type of hearing loss, working alongside other professionals to get you any additional help you may need.
Ready to book your free hearing test? Get in touch with your local Hear Right centre today.