Mental Health from a Deaf Perspective

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Several ‘CARE’ flags posted around the UConn Campus, a Suicide Prevention Month initiative started by Student Support Services. Other UConn organizations, such as UConn Interpreting Services, are trying to participate in Suicide Prevention Month as well. (Photo by @uconnhuskies/Instagram)

In light of September being Suicide Prevention Month, UConn Interpreting Services hosted a much-needed panel discussing mental health and suicide prevention from a Deaf perspective.  

As members of a marginalized community,  Deaf individuals are often left out of conversations about mental health. Because isolation and lack of social support are major risk factors for several mental health issues, opening the dialogue to everyone is crucial to preventing death by suicide. 

The panel featured three Deaf individuals with backgrounds in working in various mental health settings with diverse populations. It was accessible to both Deaf and Hard of Hearing individuals and hearing attendees thanks to the lecturers using American Sign Language and interpreters voicing the English interpretation.  

Dr. Sanjay Gulati, a child psychiatrist at Boston Children’s Hospital, opened the discussion with an overview of causes, risk factors and warning signs of suicidal ideation. He presented a clear and objective lecture with the aim of reducing the stigma around suicide and mental illness.  

“We need to treat mental health the way we treat a broken arm,” Gulati said. 

Dr. Gulati was joined by Dru Balsley and Sara Dugas for the following conversation and Q&A session. Balsley is a senior mental health clinician at the Walden School for the Deaf. She works with children and adolescents impacted by trauma.  Dugas is a Deaf and Hard of Hearing human service coordinator with the Department of Mental Health in Massachusetts.  

The variety of viewpoints opened the conversation to both objective and personal connections to the subject. Panel members addressed the questions using their professional experiences, as well as life experiences, since Gulati and Dugas have both lost loved ones to suicide.  

The panel provided an open forum to discuss questions many people have regarding mental health and suicide as well as questions specifically pertaining to Deaf and Hard of Hearing individuals. Topics such as initiating a conversation with someone who is struggling with their mental health and how the stigma around these subjects impacts those seeking resources were addressed with the varying perspectives that each panel member had to offer. 

The panel stressed the importance of society making the effort to include marginalized groups in discussions such as the one at hand since the individuals in these groups are often impacted by mental health problems at high rates and do not always have the support system or resources available to get the help they need. 

The suicide crisis hotline, for example, is a resource that is commonly given to people in need of support. However, according to the panel members, it is difficult for minority groups to gain full use of the hotline because it is run by and designed for White, straight, hearing individuals. The lack of common experience is a major hindrance for minorities seeking help. 

In addition to the lack of resources for minority groups, the “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” attitude that is extremely prevalent in the United States inhibits people from asking for help when they need it.  

“People are good at keeping those masks on,” said Balsley.  

The panel discussed how society may condition a person to believe that they must be able to solve their problems on their own and feel that they cannot reach out to others for support.  

“The biggest barrier for people getting help is not being able to talk about it,” said Gulati. 

The biggest barrier for people getting help is not being able to talk about it,

“[We need to] keep the conversation going,” said Dugas. In order to remove the stigma around asking for help, having discussions that normalize talking about mental health is an important step. 

“It’s nice to have resources to use when you need them. When it comes to loved ones, it’s very important to pay close attention because things can be deeper than ‘I’m fine. I just had a bad day,’” said Mack Brown, a third-semester student in an interpreter training program. 

The event provided accessible information about mental health, both as an informative overview as well as an open forum to discuss, from a Deaf perspective, challenges and resources involved with mental health and suicide prevention. 

1 COMMENT

  1. … reducing the stigma around suicide and mental illness.

    Indeed we have been persistently taught to direct “stigmas”. and have done so.

    Never, however, have I before witnessed in history “reduce” it, i.e., hold onto some of it.

    How much and why?

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