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

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