Deaf People’s Knowledge and Views Related to Mental Health

images1.jpgWhat Do These Numbers Mean?: Here’s an interesting data table from a research study on Deaf mental health consumers done back in 1998. One author is Deaf, the other two are hearing – it’s great they have one Deaf author/researcher on board! Even though the table is shown below out of context of the original article and without demographic data on the participants, the numbers are revealing.

ASL/English: The first part of the table lists psychology-related English words and the percentages of Deaf people who recognize them. Without going in-depth about this, the main points are that any clinicians working with Deaf people need to know that more Deaf people will recognize these words in ASL. If an assessment involves any written tests or even interpreters, it’s important that the right words are used, otherwise the tests results won’t be valid.

Deaf Friends: Further down the table, 61% of the Deaf respondents identified their Deaf friends as the people from whom they get the most information about psychology-related terms. This makes sense, if you consider that most Deaf people have hearing parents and siblings, and very few of these families provide equal communication access. Today, we might see more Deaf people getting their information from vlogs and blogs, the same way many people relied on their friends at Deaf clubs for information.

Causes of Mental Health Problems: A powerful message here: 39-54% of respondents indicated family problems, upbringing, and poor communication as primary causes of mental health problems. If 90% of Deaf people have hearing parents, we can assume that for the majority of families, communication is not in ASL, something that may be related to later mental health issues. Only 8% cited being Deaf as a cause of mental health problems. This is a clear message that the majority of Deaf people have a positive view of being Deaf when it comes to mental health.

Deaf or Hearing Therapists/Counselors: Not surprisingly, 72% of respondents preferred Deaf therapists over hearing therapists. Even though it isn’t indicated if the respondents were given a choice between Deaf therapists and ASL-fluent hearing therapists, the numbers speak loudly. Our own experience as psychotherapists has been that Deaf clients report feeling relieved to be able to work with psychotherapists who are Deaf and who “get” the Deaf experience. Given this, why aren’t Deaf-oriented gradaute programs in mental health and psychology recruiting and admitting more Deaf students? And why aren’t more community mental health agencies seeking Deaf professionals?

Take a look at the table and let us know what you think of the numbers. What do they mean, particularly in 2008? What, if any, changes would you predict today in Deaf people’s knowledge and views related to mental health?



Steinberg, A.G., Sullivan, V.J., & Loew, R.C. (1998). Cultural and Linguistic Barriers to Mental Health Service Access: The Deaf Consumer’s Perspective. American Journal of Psychiatry, 155(7),982-984

  1. RLM April 18, 2008

    I recently got in heated agruments with one of my deaf guest at the restaurant which he stated “Many deaf people have mental problems because of their personal experience with the societal oppression”.

    I do not have any problems with the possible contributions to the state of mental health of deaf people in general due to the factors of stress and frustration, etc. I happen to disagree with the definition of “Too many deaf people have mental problems”.

    No questions about the larger numbers of educational system of the deaf hire poorly qualifed mental health counselors to deal with deaf students from various linguistic and communication background.

    Same thing with the very and very limited or no access to the mental health counselings across the United States, especially rural areas.

    Many thanks for bringing up this topic and submit the statistical info regarding the category of mental health which the majority of deaf people face.

    Deaf people from small towns and rural areas face the major obstacles for seeking most qualified mental health counselor to deal with the issue of “life and death” matter, marriage and relationship broke-ups and other subjects.

    The stigma of mental health counseling still reek within the deaf community.

    Robert L. Mason (RLM)

  2. MikeS April 18, 2008

    Thanks for sharing this. Interesting data. Indeed, providing access to the person’s communication needs is number one for the person to be able to reciprocate. From my internship, I cannot receive enough thanks from Deaf persons for being able to just LISTEN, REFLECT, and be EMPATHIC and providing CLARITY for their self-exploration issues. One person told me I was her best counselor she ever had and such relationship made her hearing therapist envious of me. I still have long ways to go anyway. There was a panel discussion in class one night and one hearing therapist had several jobs in deaf mental health field while the deaf counselor there only has one. I asked her if hearing professionals have more opportunities than Deaf professionals and she bluntly said yes. It seems that those who have previous interpreting experience advances more in the field. As for relying on Deaf friends for advice, I usually suggest to those that friends will often suggest strategies of denial (avoid or suppress) of the person’s problem and it is highly recommended to see Deaf counselors instead.

  3. Jeffrey April 18, 2008

    I believe these numbers to be very important. This shows how important it is for deaf children of hearing parents to have a language that enables them to think, function, and more importantly, belong as a member of a family.

    It is my profound belief that with the inclusion of ASL in a child’s upbringing, that child can develop a proud sense of identity and a completely independent sense of confidence in their relationships with others.

    Lip-reading and speech strains the person and gradually they tire of doing such unnatural things.

    They aren’t hearing but the world expects them to function as if they were and the road to hooness is paved with pain.

    When hearing people take the time to listen and receive the truth of a deaf child, they begin to see the individial and not the ideal, or the superficial.

    Because parents often try to see their child in an ideal light, they fail to truly empathize and as a result, they reinforce those ideals upon the child and the child learns to forget their own true feelings.

    When the child habitually aims to please, they further choke themselves.

    It is no wonder that there is a need for help.

    The hearing world and their ridiculous expectations as well as unfortunate impatience, really has its toll on those who are denied their right to exist as deaf children who benefit most from a visual language that is independent from speech and hearing.

    Heck, I need help because I want to be there for those kids before the present generation of Deaf toddlers are raised into thinking they are much wiser and better off than those who have seen the reality of the hearing world and it’s stance of the Deaf who identify with Deaf Culture and ASL.

    Let us keep tearing down the walls of fear and ignorance so that they may see what really is.

    Oppression never works, we all know that, but it does happen in the strangest of ways.

    Thank you for sharing with us this information.
    Much Appreciated,

  4. susan April 18, 2008

    “Only 8% cited being Deaf as a cause of mental health problems. ” very interesting. now in 2008, do deaf people view being deaf as a cause of mental health problems because they decide to get cochlear implants? are people with implants unhappy about their being deaf that they think they should be fixed?

  5. Jean Boutcher April 18, 2008

    This is a very interesting finding. What I would like to see in the future is two separate studies. One study would focus on implantées; the other study would focus on signing non-implantées. It should be interesting to see whether there are any comparisons and contrasts between two groups.

  6. ASCDEAF April 23, 2008

    RLM – We agree that access to mental health services for Deaf people living in rural areas in the US is extremely limited. Hopefully, this is something that will change as videophone therapy gains wider acceptance.

    As for societal oppression contributing to mental health issues for Deaf people, the same is true for any minority/oppressed group in any society. It doesn’t necessarily mean Deaf people experience more mental health issues than hearing people. Research that claims Deaf people have higher incidences of mental health issues needs to be examined very carefully – there are many methodological factors in research that can bias the findings.

    MikeS – Thanks for sharing your experience from your internship. The feeling of being “at home” is often cited when Deaf clients finally find a Deaf therapist with whom they can work. No doubt about the inequalities in professional opportunities for Deaf and hearing therapists. Watch for our upcoming vlog on “qualified Deaf people”!

    Jeffrey – It’s clear there is everything to gain and nothing to lose by including ASL in all Deaf children’s upbringing. Family issues impact everyone – Deaf or hearing – but language/communication issues unnecessarily underlie so many Deaf people’s sounds from childhood.

    Susan – Good questions. We will very likely see more research in the near future on this topic.

    Jean – We look forward to these studies, too.

  7. Sarah Jalop September 25, 2008

    Thanks for sharing this interesting resource. Found it very helpful, and it just shows you how much we still have to learn.

  8. Deaf SweetMind October 6, 2008

    Hi ASCDeaf,

    I was so thrilled and inspired to read your excellent blog I ever saw. Wow! Somebody knows the truth about Deaf human’s mental health and true soul that need to express their needs which should be a real natural feelings of being deaf. I hope there will be more Deaf counselors with a Deaf reality experience and positive of understanding in our true passion and emotion feelings to express our true souls without having their overlapping own hearing emotions/thinkings. That is very important to us all. That’s positive healthy for us to have in our Deaf lives. 🙂

    Thank you so much to make a difference for us and our Deaf children of the Deaf community. 🙂 You dont know how many times I have read this today that makes my day. I am very happy to see this happens for us to have the rights to be who we are being deaf as is.

    Have a wonderful day! 🙂
    Deaf SweetMind


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