The Silent Souls with Loud Issues – COVID and Mental Health Concerns in the Deaf Community
Since March of 2019, the world was has become a confusing place. Not only due to the emergence of COVID-19 and all the parameters of this pandemic but also an increase in mental health concerns across the board in all walks of life. To the normal individual, social distancing, quarantines and vaccines have ignited a world into feelings of isolation, panic, fear and disconnect. The rate of mental illness has skyrocketed over this span of 18 months and we now have another epidemic which must be addressed as well as analyzed.
Although we are all human beings sharing this planet and living in this COVID landscape, this problem cannot be addressed in an umbrella fashion. Each group of people, populations, races, and cultures experience this issue in their own terms with their own specific ramifications. Mental health cannot be viewed as a cookie cutter approach in hopes that success can be achieved. That premise, therefore, pushes the idea that how does this spike in mental illness effect groups that are already dealing with unfair circumstances and pre-existing issues such as those with intellectual and developmental disabilities or those living in poverty and the list goes on and on.
The Deaf Community and culture is one of these very groups that need our attention and consideration during this difficult time. In a culture that strives on visual cues, lip reading and physical association, the Deaf Community already struggles for equality and acceptance without the added problems COVID and protocols have created. Mask mandates reduce visual cues such as mouth movement and facial expressions that are necessary for the Deaf Community to communicate with the world and each other. Although needed, masks also decrease and dampen the availability of sound frequency for those using residual hearing.
In this new highly technological world, the creation of online webcam meeting sites such as Zoom have also piled on difficulties and issues for the Deaf Community. For every successful innovation there will always be collateral damage to those individuals with specific needs. Zoom has exploded onto the scene as a relatively quick and easy way for us to stay connected and accomplish both school and work requirements. Due to this fact, the term Zoom Fatigue is now being discussed by therapists, doctors, teachers, parents and specialist all over the world.
While we call it Zoom fatigue, many researchers and audiologists have named this feeling “concentration fatigue.” “It’s not necessarily persistent fatigue but surely a measurable increase in listening effort,” explained Mario Svirsky, professor of hearing science at NYU Langone Health medical center. “A little noise in the background can bring you over a tipping point where communication becomes much more difficult and you have to do a lot of work. You may participate in a meeting focusing on everything for the full two hours and, at the end, you are wiped out.”
We do not know when the end to this confusing landscape will come to an end but that should not allow us to forget those who need us right now. If we limit the Deaf Community access to their language, this group of individuals will further feel isolated and disconnected. Varying levels of deafness equates to varying needs and preferences to an enriched and productive life. Just as we cannot look at Intellectual Disabilities as all being the same, we are doing the Deaf Community an injustice by not seeing them needing just as much variety of assistance and consideration. We must do better and be the voices for the Silent Souls with loud issues!
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