This September, we're supporting Mental Health Awareness Week! (18th - 24th).
This year's Mental Health Awareness Week theme is "Five Ways, Five Days." The theme underscores the need to put in place proven tools to boost our wellbeing each day as we navigate the roller-coaster ride of life's uncertainties and challenges.
We sit down with Hope and Lauren from our Youth Advisory Group, who reflect on how their hearing loss impacted their mental health growing up and what helped them through the tough times. They hope that by sharing their experiences, they will provide valuable insights for young people with hearing loss who may be struggling with their mental health or emotional wellbeing.
Lauren, NFDHH Youth Advisor.
Growing up with hearing loss, were there times when your emotional and mental health were impacted?
Lauren: “I always found it hard to cope in social situations, as I struggled to follow the conversations of those around me. It's easy to feel left out and is really tiring trying to 'keep up'. Also, I was always anxious when meeting new people, as I was worried people would think I was stupid because I couldn't hear.”
Hope: “It was very hard to communicate in groups and as a result I really struggled socially and was never able to enjoy events like parties or going to the movies. I think that being Deaf itself hasn't negatively impacted me but the resulting isolation from living in an inaccessible society has. This resulted in me developing social anxiety.”
What helped you to get through challenging times?
Lauren: “Being open and honest with those around me about what was going on really helped. Having them present in stressful social situations got me through. That meant I was able to lean on them when I was struggling to hear, and eventually with their support, learn to overcome my worries. Now I just don't care what hearing people think.”
Hope: “Being able to talk through my feelings with a therapist, and with other Deaf and hard of hearing who understood my experiences, really helped me to process my emotions in a healthy way.”
Hope, NFDHH Youth Advisor.
How has connecting with the Deaf and hard of hearing community made a difference to your sense of wellbeing?
Lauren: “It's been huge for me. Finding a community of people just like me, learning NZSL, being able to leave my hearing aids 'at the door' and not worrying about my deafness holding me back - has allowed me to completely embrace it. It helped me to reframe my hearing loss as ‘deaf gain’ and focus on the positives. I now feel a sense of belonging and a sense of pride."
Hope: “Learning sign language and connecting with my local Deaf community really helped me to socialise and combat my feelings of isolation. NZSL gave me a viable way to communicate and really helped me to advocate for myself and come out of my shell.”
What do you do to stay positive and look after your mental and emotional wellbeing?
Lauren: “I like to surround myself with people who know and love me for exactly who I am. I think it's really unhealthy to feel ashamed or want to hide my hearing loss/hearing aids. Having a local Deaf community to get involved in always helps me feel proud of who I am. I like to get outside in nature as much as possible, as being outside really helps me to recharge. It's really tiring being a deaf person in a hearing world!”
Hope: “I find practising mindfulness and meditation very useful for improving my mental health. Little things like making sure to talk to someone each day and go outside make a big difference too. But, the biggest thing that has improved my mental health is therapy.”
One in two New Zealanders will experience mental distress or illness in their lifetime (47 per cent). We know it can be challenging. That's why NFDHH is supporting Mental Health Awareness Week. To access tools to boost your mental health this September, go to the Mental Health Foundation's page:www.mhaw.nz