Paul Stemman

Deaf Info

Home > Health and wellbeing > Mental health > Deaf people's experience of mental health problems (part 2)
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Social exclusion

There is a well known link between social exclusion and mental health. Deaf people are more likely to be socially excluded because of the way society treats and discriminates against them. Educational attainment is likely to be lower, job prospects might be lower, and feelings of isolation can grow. This kind of social exclusion can then lead to poorer mental health – which will then add to a person’s social exclusion.





Specific mental health problems

It is believed that Deaf people have the same range of mental health problems as hearing people. The incidence of schizophrenia is much the same among Deaf patients and hearing patients. Recovery rates are also likely to be similar.


A common feature of schizophrenia is auditory hallucinations. Ongoing research suggests that Deaf patients also experience this phenomenon – with the ‘voices’ often being negative, as with hearing patients.


It was once thought that Deaf people were less likely to experience depression. However, it now looks as if this was just because Deaf people were not seeking help, so clinicians were unaware of the true number.





Diagnosis of a mental health problem involves a great deal of communication. A doctor needs to be able to interpret a great deal from what a person tells them, and from the way they ‘present’ (how the person tells them, can they keep eye-contact, are they speaking quickly, etc.). While it is difficult for a doctor to accurately assess a hearing patient, a Deaf patient presents a real challenge.


A good interpreter is obviously essential. The interpreter needs to be suitably qualified and preferably have experience of working in a mental health setting. But even with a good interpreter, any doctor is going to miss a lot of important information. Is the patient signing fluently? Is the patient signing fast? Is the patient maintaining a line of thought? Are the patient’s facial expressions describing their mood?


Indeed, this is such a highly skilled area, that the NHS has special mental health services for Deaf people. Here, staff can sign and have an understanding of Deaf culture.


For further information, follow these links:


Sensory Impairment and Mental Health, Margaret du Feu & Kenneth Fergusson (Advances in Psychiatric Treatment, 2003)

link to Charter’s executive summary

Acrobat Executive Summary to Mental Health Foundation & Sign's Basic Rights Charter - excellent overview

Information for Mental Health, based in Leeds, has a useful website that includes some information in BSL.