Experiencing hearing loss can have a devastating effect on one’s life, especially if an individual is hesitant to use a hearing aid device because of the perceived stigma that accompanies their use. Depending on the extent of the hearing loss, avoiding proper treatment can lead to isolation, depression, anxiety, and anger.
For decades professionals in the hearing health industry have effectively treated the physical symptoms and complications that accompany hearing loss. They have listened, evaluated, consulted, and prescribed treatments for a variety of conditions and ailments that affect hearing.
The Psychological Component
But one area that has recently gained more attention for its importance in the hearing health of a patient is the psychological aspects of hearing loss. While this area has often been a part of patient treatment within the hearing professional’s physical space, many patients have needed more intensive care coping emotionally with hearing loss, especially concerning the stigma that hearing loss may present.
Even individuals who suffered from the stigma of hearing aids before there was more education about hearing loss available among the general population, still feel the effects of being teased, ignored, or treated differently decades ago.
Stigma created by hearing loss doesn’t only have to be external, i.e., feelings produced by interactions between the individual with hearing loss and his/her friends and family. It can be internal too, meaning things one tells themselves about themselves related to negative feelings around hearing loss. These stigmas may lead some individuals to abandon their hearing aids, while others, especially older patients may avoid using them altogether because they’re afraid they will appear weak or old.
Bringing Awareness To Stigma
Professionals can help conquer internal and external stigmas surrounding hearing loss by making it a regular part of the conversation during consultations with new and existing patients. Patients should discuss their feelings about these stigmas. A great way to begin the discussion is through open-ended questions about how a person’s personal experience with hearing loss.
The September 2018 issue in The Hearing Journal offers eight specific tools to use to recognize and discuss their hearing loss. These tools help address both internal and external stigmas.
1) Take responsibility for your hearing loss.
2) Create and adopt new messages about your hearing loss.
3) Make a list of difficult listening situations.
4) Plan how to talk about your hearing loss.
5) Ask for accommodations.
6) Communicate effectively and comfortably.
7) Set realistic and meaningful goals.
8) Connect with your community of people with hearing loss.
Fighting back against external stigmas starts with recognizing the fact that even if you try to hide your hearing loss, most others in your life are already aware that you are living with hearing loss. Take responsibility by advocating for yourself to obtain the tools you need to improve your hearing.
Fighting against internal stigma involves creating and adopting new messages about your hearing loss. Often we tell ourselves things about our hearing loss that we just don’t realize we are saying. These negative messages obstruct the path to seeking effective treatments for our hearing loss. By recognizing these messages and fighting back with positive internal words, we can change our internal stigmas about hearing loss.