Deaf Community Accountability and Mental Illness

What are the ongoing issues related to mental illness within a deaf population? 

Often, this issue, within the deaf population, has been thrown under the rug. Creating awareness is a difficult struggle since it is often not fully understood of the ramifications of how deep mental illness is within the deaf community. Only afew people fully understand the ramifications of mental illness within the deaf community, but they too, are having a difficult time getting the message out. The other issue is that deaf community is also in denial about mental illness within their community. It is rarely discussed. It is rarely debated. Most people consider it a non-issue, until, that is, someone they know/knew struggled with it in front of their very own eyes. 
In a very public video, Terrylene Sachett, overwhelmed with grief explains the struggles that even her own son had with mental illness. 
She signs in her video, 

“The challenges of battling the darkness became a cycle of normalcy, health and well-being offset by periods of mental health concerns. At first, the periods of concerns were minimal and brief in contrast to the periods of well-being. But eventually, the balance shifted and the periods of darkness became more and more prevalent, while the periods of normalcy and well-being diminished. “

For most people within the deaf community, they grew up with Gianni Manganelli. Or they knew of him since the deaf community is extremely small. For the majority of the population and some of Gianni friends, his death was shocking; however, for those who really knew him, his close friends and family, understood that he was struggling with something much more deeper than himself. 
Terrylene Sachett goes on signing, 

“But by him putting an end of the relentless torment, it was ultimately that very darkness that took his life from him. With that understanding, what do we do now? We all must understand that WE must change. We must look closely at ourselves and ask ourselves, what can I do? What can we do? How can we as a community take accountability for this? What would community accountability mean? What would it look like? What would it be?”

How should community accountability look like? It is difficult to discuss difficult issues within one’s’ community, however, might it be best to talk about it? This issue should be discussed in an open atmosphere and discuss how we can improve mental illness. 
According to Sandra Mueller, LCSW, she wrote that

“To understand the prevalence of mental illness in the deaf community, several common statistics were found. The prevalence of mental illness among deaf people is at least as high as in the population at large (UCSF, 2004). Furthermore, findings reveal that the rate of Axis I mental health disorders does not differ between hearing and deaf populations, but Axis II and childhood behavior problems are three to six times more prevalent for deaf persons. Deaf children and adolescents exhibit higher levels of behavioral and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorders then the general population (Haskins 2000 & Chritchfield, 2002). The prevalence of mental health issues in the deaf community is as significant as in the population at large, thus, emphasizing the need to examine the some unique factors impacting deaf people living with mental illness.”

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), the deaf community struggles with getting mental health care because of “significant health disparities and is often excluded from health surveillances, outreach programs and mass media health care messages.” 
They list several factors why these disparities exist today
1) First, members of the deaf community may have limited medical and mental health knowledge because they have not had direct access to health information during their primary and secondary education, which may result in less help-seeking behavior.
2) Some members of the deaf community visit their doctors and mental health professionals less often, in part, due to limited access to direct communication.
3) Many health care settings do not provide certified and qualified medical and mental health interpreters.
4) Deaf ASL users often embody a unique culture that is unfamiliar to most medical and mental health care providers. This lack of cultural- and linguistic-competency on the part of the professional often results in higher rates of inaccurate evaluations, misdiagnosis and inappropriate treatments.
This issue should no longer be thrown under the rug; this issue should be the #1 discussion and debate within the deaf community. The deaf community also should advocate for themselves to get assistance from their local, state and federal government and look into mandating change to make sure that people who are deaf are getting ALL the necessary treatment for their mental illness. 
By creating debate and having hard, difficult discussions about this topic, we can, together as a community, find the answers to Terrylene’s questions and, hopefully, create a more, informed and healthy community. 
Let’s get this discussion started.
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Thomsen Young

Founder of SG