In the wake of World Mental Health Day, which was observed on October 10, I’d like to talk about a project we’ve started with our partners in India and Bangladesh, to provide better emotional wellbeing support to deaf children and young people. In the impoverished rural areas where Deaf Child Worldwide (DCW) operates, mental health services of any description are practically non-existent.
Our project came about when our partner organizations noticed that the deaf children and young people they worked with often seemed to exhibit emotional problems, ranging from withdrawal and isolation to aggressive acting out. Needless to say, these extremes of behavior had a negative effect on their education.
Barriers to language and communication
These behaviors stem from the language and communication barriers that deaf children and young people we work with can face.
Late diagnosis and a lack of access to hearing technology means they often have significant language delays. And because they don’t get the support they need, their families, schools and communities struggle to communicate with them. There are a number of factors at play:
- They face daily struggles to be understood, even by their own family. This can understandably lead to feelings of isolation, loneliness and frustration.
- Often a deaf child is the only deaf person in their family, their school or even their whole community, so there’s no-one to share their feelings with.
- Deaf children are sometimes bullied or experience stigma, discrimination or inequality because of their deafness.
- In stressful situations, many deaf children are left anxious because no-one has adequately explained the stress inducing situation to them.
The workers on the frontline
In South Asia, our partners employ deaf role models (DRMs). DRMs are deaf adults who support deaf children to help them develop language and communication skills and build literacy. This can include giving sign language lessons, making schoolwork more accessible (for example, through the visual materials developed by our partners) and keeping them informed about wider issues in the community.
Deaf children frequently express feelings of anger, frustration and withdrawal to the DRMs. In situations such as these, deaf children may develop more serious mental health issues if their concerns are not addressed at an early stage. But intervention requires a level of knowledge which DRMs currently don’t possess.