How hearing loss can impact mental health (and what you can do about it)

Anxiety and depression can affect all of us, at any stage of our lives, but you’re more likely to experience it if you’re living with untreated hearing loss, research shows.

A National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey conducted between 2005-2010 found that people with hearing loss are 57% more likely to report depression and anxiety than those without it. And a 2007 survey found that 6 in 10 people with hearing loss display symptoms associated with depression.

If you have depression or anxiety, you may:

  • Be frequently irritable or frustrated

  • Have trouble sleeping

  • Lose interest or pleasure in most activities

  • Be sad, down or miserable most of the time

  • Withdraw from close friends and family

  • Experience physical sensations like a racing heart or hot and cold flushes

  • Have obsessive thinking or compulsive behaviour

The link between hearing loss, anxiety and depression is believed to arise from situations that make you feel isolated. You may:

  • Feel misunderstood by others

  • Not know how to express how hearing loss makes you feel

  • Feel confused and detached from what’s going on around you

  • Encounter people who don’t understand how to best communicate with you

  • Find it hard to communicate in loud or crowded areas

The good news is that there are good treatment options (think cognitive behaviour therapy, interpersonal therapy and/or medication), and people with hearing loss often find that the right hearing solution – such as hearing aids, resolves the isolation issues that led to anxiety and depression in the first place.

It’s important to realise that the best treatment plan for you might not be right for someone else. Don’t give up if you don’t find the right thing, right away. That said, a holistic approach that includes diet and exercise is often beneficial.

Science backs exercise as a mental health booster. It’s protective against cognitive decline, too.

I point out exercise, in particular, because it can also combat and reduce your risk of hearing loss. One study using mice showed that those who exercised experienced a 5 percent hearing loss in their lifetime while sedentary mice suffered a 20 percent hearing loss on average. Researchers believe that sedentary lifestyles cause you to lose important auditory structures in the cochlear (inner ear).

So, I’ve established that exercise is good for mental health and our hearing, but there’s a caveat I feel needs mentioning; you’ll be doing your hearing a disservice if you’re listening to loud music while you exercise.

A study published in the ePublication of Australian Fitness Network shows that many fitness instructors are cranking the volume in classes almost as high as the average nightclub. That’s much higher than the Australian workplace health and safety laws allow for hearing health. The rationale seems to be that loud music is a great motivator, but 30 percent of class participants surveyed for this study reported loud music to be stressful.

(If you’re convinced loud music is key to keeping you going on the treadmill, just try lowering the volume while finding music with a faster beat. Researchers think that’s more likely to help you find your second wind.)

I wrote this article based on studies and information from BeyondBlue. I encourage you to discuss what you’re feeling with your doctor, psychologist, or a close friend, colleague or family member. There is absolutely no shame in what you’re going through and there are very effective ways to overcome it.

BeyondBlue has a fantastic fact sheet for people who are deaf or hard of hearing.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed with anxiety or depression, I encourage you to get in contact with the understanding people at BeyondBlue or call Lifeline on 13 11 14 .

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