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Inclusive Mental Health: A Guide for the Deaf Community

Being deaf or hard of hearing can add complexity to maintaining a healthy mental state for some individuals. Read on to learn more about ways to do it!

Molly Glass
Molly Glass
Inclusive Mental Health: A Guide for the Deaf Community

Being deaf or hard of hearing can add complexity to maintaining a healthy mental and emotional state for some individuals. Read on to learn more about ways to improve mental health in these circumstances. 

Note: If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, please get help immediately. The 988 Lifeline provides 24/7, confidential support to people in suicidal crisis or mental health-related distress. By calling through Nagish or texting 988, you’ll connect to mental health professionals with the Lifeline network. 

Video phone users can also reach 988 directly for ASL access. This feature started rolling out in 2023; if it does not work, use 1-800-273-TALK (8255) for your video phone.

Challenges Faced

Deaf and hard of hearing people have unique lifelong challenges that create barriers to accessing mental health. Read on to learn about a few of these challenges.

Language Access

A common statistic is that around 90% of deaf people are born to hearing families. This means they start their life with little to no access to ASL until diagnosis. At diagnosis, many medical professionals advise against using ASL out of unfounded fears that it will delay speech development. Some parents still learn sign language, but it is a small minority. 

As a result, many deaf children have language delays or language deprivation. A statistic from the National Association of the Deaf states that approximately 70% of deaf children are language-deprived. Language is a critical component of being a well-rounded human being, and the lack of it has lifelong consequences.

Education Barriers

Deaf children are either mainstreamed or attend a Deaf school; however, the majority are mainstreamed with other hearing students. Some schools are set up for access with ASL interpreters, FM systems, captioned videos, and an IEP or 504 plan, but many are insufficient to meet the needs of the deaf or hard of hearing students. 

The result is educational delays. For example, the median reading level of deaf graduates is around 4th grade. This means half of the students can read above that, while the other half is below it. Additionally, according to the National Deaf Center, 84% of deaf students graduate from high school, compared to 89% of hearing students. 

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Social Isolation

While many cities have large populations of deaf and hard of hearing people who form communities, most of our time is spent around hearing people who do not know sign language. One common experience is the “Dinner Table Syndrome” while eating meals with hearing family members and friends. 

This means many are left out of social connections, networking opportunities, incidental learning, and even pop culture knowledge or the news. Many deaf report feeling behind despite trying to catch up.


Deaf and hard of hearing people have higher rates of underemployment and unemployment compared to hearing peers. Communication barriers, lack of work experience, and sometimes discrimination make obtaining and keeping jobs difficult. According to the National Deaf Center, only 53% of deaf people were employed in 2017. As the deaf and hard of hearing are a minority group, this is a large number compared to mainstream statistics. 

Lack of employment means living with unstable housing, food access, and limited healthcare. Each of these factors has its ripple effects. 

Mental Health Results

A woman with dark chin-length hair in a blue sweater is staring off into space.
A woman with dark chin-length hair in a blue sweater is staring off into space. 

The challenges deaf and hard of hearing people face are many, but how do they affect their mental health? Many will experience one or several of the following mental health issues as a consequence. 

Depression & Anxiety

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), about 25% of deaf people have a depression or anxiety diagnosis. This is higher than the hearing percentage, which is 22%. However, it is believed that the rate is much higher due to the lack of language access and availability of accessible mental healthcare. 

Substance Abuse

Some deaf and hard of hearing individuals have struggled with alcohol and drug abuse. According to the NIH, nearly 33% of deaf participants self-reported substance struggles in a study, compared to 12% of their hearing peers. Substance abuse can also make obtaining employment or recovering from depression more difficult, and it may compound any current health issues. 

Abuse and Trauma

Deaf and hard of hearing are more likely to experience physical abuse and traumatic events such as sexual assault. The NIH reports that 21% of deaf and hard of hearing experience abuse, compared to 13.9% of their hearing peers. The above-mentioned social isolation can make some individuals more vulnerable to unhealthy and toxic relationships. 

Finding Help

A white man with dark hair is looking hopefully at a computer.
A white man with dark hair is looking hopefully at a computer. 

Find Mutual Support

Seeking out friends who are also deaf and hard of hearing can be a source of support. In many deaf communities, subgroups cater to niche interests, such as outdoor activities, game nights, art, writing, and support groups. Joining these groups can provide an opportunity to make new friends and receive mutual support. 

If attending in-person groups are challenging due to living in a rural area, there are many online communities for deaf and hard of hearing individuals on platforms like Facebook and Reddit. Participating in these online groups can help you connect with others and feel less alone. 

Finding Therapy

There are two options for counseling: attending a mainstream counselor or psychiatrist and requesting an ASL interpreter or locating a Deaf counselor or ASL-fluent counselor. Each option has its pros and cons. 

Hearing Counselors

Not all counselors provide accessible counseling to the deaf and hard of hearing, but it is worth asking around in your community for those who do. However, counselors who provide ASL interpreters may or may not understand specific deaf cultural backgrounds. When making an appointment, it is worth asking questions and vetting upfront to ensure they fit your needs well. 

Another option is to seek online counseling via videoconferencing and use tools such as captioning or remote ASL interpreters.

Deaf-friendly Counseling 

Another choice is to find counselors who are fluent in American Sign Language. While rare, they exist, and you can search for psychologists on the Psychology Today website and filter by the language used. My state has three ASL-fluent psychologists that I found in my search.

Another option is a company specializing in ASL counseling called Deaf Counseling Center. They offer in-person and online sessions and are accepted by most insurance companies. It is run by two founders who are certified Deaf therapists. 


Navigating mental health as a deaf or hard of hearing individual comes with challenges. However, our emotional and mental well-being is vital to our overall quality of life, making it essential to overcome these barriers to find happiness and wholeness. Building your support system and using accessible therapy options can benefit you on this journey.

Molly Glass

Molly, a Deaf mom of two CODAs, lives with her hearing partner of almost 14 years in the scenic Blue Ridge mountains of Virginia. Profoundly Deaf since 18 months old, she enjoys writing about the lived Deaf experiences and advocacy. In her free time she reads, and is very slowly working on authoring her first book.

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