The impact of hearing loss and tinnitus on mental health

The impact of hearing loss and tinnitus on mental health

Living with hearing loss and/or tinnitus can lead to mental health challenges. This can occur due to the grief associated with having hearing loss or tinnitus and dealing with its effects. As with all mental health challenges, some people can work through these issues on their own, but other people need some extra support so they can live well with their hearing loss and tinnitus.

Hearing loss and tinnitus are common conditions. Hearing loss occurs in approximately one in every six people. This rate increases to one in every two people over the age of 60. 1 Tinnitus, which is a condition where people hear noises, hisses or hums that have no external source, is often referred to as ‘ringing in the ears.’ In Australia approximately one in three people have experienced tinnitus at some point and one in six people struggle with constant tinnitus. 2 It is also understood that a person with hearing loss 3 or tinnitus 4 is more likely to experience mental health challenges compared to other people.

Receiving a hearing loss or tinnitus diagnosis can sometimes trigger a grieving process.  A person may grieve because of the effects these conditions have on their life, or they may grieve because they think that having these conditions is a sign of ageing (both conditions can, however, occur at any age). Like any grieving process, some people will move through the stages of grief without too many issues. Other people have more trouble moving through the stages leading to ongoing anxiety or depression. For those who experience grief that affects their day to day lives receiving appropriate support is critical to living well with hearing loss.

Stigma associated with hearing conditions can also sometimes make it difficult for people to accept their new identity as a person with hearing loss or tinnitus. While stigma is not universal, some people do hold stigmatising attitudes around hearing conditions, and it is important to acknowledge that this can be part of a person’s experience.

All the changes and new experiences a person goes through when they are diagnosed with hearing loss or tinnitus can also affect their confidence – particularly their self-efficacy which is a person’s belief in their ability to do a specific task or job well. Negative self-efficacy can cause a person to see challenges as threats and make it difficult to adapt which results in a person being more prone to depression and stress. With the right support, a person with hearing loss and/or tinnitus can regain their self-efficacy making it easier to address the challenges they face.

Some people with hearing loss and tinnitus may withdraw from activities they used to engage in – particularly noisy social activities. Socialisation is a key factor in maintaining good mental health and when this is compromised it can lead to depression. Tinnitus can also interfere with a person’s ability to sleep which can further affect mental health. 5

While sometimes people may withdraw from situations where their hearing loss may make it difficult to hear or their tinnitus may be aggravated, even the lead up to these situations can create stress and anxiety. Being stressed and anxious can also negatively affect a person’s ability to hear and communicate and further aggravate their tinnitus. This can then result in an unhelpful cycle of increased stress and anxiety.

These are just some of the common examples of how hearing loss and tinnitus can cause mental health challenges. It is important to remember that every person is different, their experiences with hearing loss and tinnitus are unique to them and consequently the effect these conditions have on a person’s life is specific to them.

This blog was written by Soundfair Hearing Centre. Soundfair Hearing Centre is a not-for-profit organisation that is committed to hearing equality and transforming the wellbeing of people with hearing conditions. They offer more than hearing aids, and connect people with information, resources and support through psychological services to help people with hearing conditions live an empowered life.

  1. ↩︎
  2. ↩︎
  3. ↩︎
  4. ↩︎
  5. ↩︎