Coalition of Deaf Mental Health Professionals

Deaf Mental Health Summary

According to Deaf Aotearoa there are about 9000 culturally Deaf (the capital D denotes belonging to Deaf culture) people in New Zealand who call New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) their first language. This number includes people who are Deaf and blind (about 3% of the Deaf population), but excludes many thousands who use oral language, and have become deaf (lower case d denotes belonging to a hearing culture).

Deaf people experience poor life outcomes across the eight drivers of inequality specified as target areas for Mental Health and Addiction (MH&A) services. These include bonding difficulties, language deprivation, childhood abuse, low levels of literacy, unemployment, isolation, higher rates of criminal offending in adulthood and poor general health.

Mental illness and addiciton in the Deaf Community

Deaf people have rates of mental illness and addictions that are around twice the level of the general population. High rates of child abuse, language deprivation, social isolation and restricted access to education and employment are amongst a number of complex socio-cultural issues which make Deaf significantly more vulnerable to mental illness. Mental Health and Addiction problems have a profound impact at a personal, family and community level. Lack of effective treatment at an early stage creates a significant barrier to Deaf people reaching their potential.

Access to services for Deaf

About 10% of the Deaf population use a mental health or addiction service, but less than 1% receive a service in their own language. Mainstream services have a limited awareness of Deaf culture and how this relates to mental wellbeing, and effective treatment for those experiencing illness and/or addiction problems. The consequence of inadequate services is that many Deaf people remain undiagnosed and untreated. As a result some develop severe mental illness and/or addiction problems, with many Deaf spending long periods in high level care environments including hospital and prison. Treating someone who has developed a chronic condition takes far longer, uses considerably more resources and is extremely costly.

Specialist Deaf mental health services

In 2010, specialist Deaf mental health services in the Central region were closed. Richmond NZ continues to run a small service in Auckland, however the majority of NZ has been left with no specialist services dedicated to the needs of the Deaf Community. A new group is lobbying for the establishment of nationally coordinated Deaf mental health services to ensure that Deaf people can access a well-connected cultural service in their own language, regardless of where they live.

The Coalition of Deaf Mental Health Professionals

The Group is based in Auckland, and made up of Deaf and hearing professionals who are passionate about Deaf Mental Health. The group is closely supported by Deaf Aotearoa New Zealand and formed late last year as a result of service closures and ongoing inequalities in Mental Health and Addiction (MH&A) service provision for Deaf people living in New Zealand. Recently the group has been working to ensure that important new policy; ‘Blueprint 11’ addresses Deaf needs.

What is Blueprint 11?

Blueprint 11 will provide a framework for the sector as to how the MH&A needs of all New Zealanders are to be met over the next 10 years. It has been developed by The Mental Health Commission (MHC), in consultation with many cross-sector agencies who have contributed their views on what is needed.

Blueprint 11 has been released in draft form and is awaiting formal approval from Cabinet. It identifies Deaf needs in the following ways:

  1. acknowledges that the prevalence of mental health disorders in people who are deaf are approximately twice the general population
  2. wants to improve equity of outcomes for different populations including the Deaf population
  3. wants to ensure that culturally specific models of care continue to be developed
  4. recognises that the Deaf have complex needs that will require integrating mental health and addiction and disability policy at a national level, and funding and service delivery at a local DHB level

Next steps to get accessible services for the Deaf community

We need to:

  1. collect real life stories to show those responsible for service planning, how services are currently failing Deaf people
  2. create a national policy and framework for the delivery of mental health and addiction services to the Deaf community based on Blueprint II and a commitment to this service being a cultural service
  3. work out how resources currently being applied to Deaf clients through general services could be applied through regional Deaf cultural mental health and addiction services

If you are able to share any of your stories these would be very helpful to us. Your stories may relate to some of the following common problems experienced by Deaf people:

  1. Difficulties making an appointment to see someone eg GP, or mental health or addiction specialist
  2. Difficulties booking an interpreter for an appointment
  3. Specialists not using a qualified interpreter, writing down messages or expecting patient to lip read etc
  4. Talking to family or other professionals and not to you
  5. Not listening, or taking necessary time to understand problems
  6. Not taking what you are saying seriously
  7. Making decisions without talking or consulting with you fully first
  8. Difficulties talking to hearing practitioners unfamiliar with the Deaf world
  9. Difficulties accessing information about your illness, symptoms, and treatment plan including medication and possible side effects

We are happy to talk to you in private and we can remove any information which will identify those involved.

To share a story, or to get in touch with the group please contact us