Tuesday, 29 November 2022

Exploring the Relationship between Sensory Impairment and Mental Health



When someone develops a sensory impairment like deafness or blindness as a result of age, the onset of a disease, or a severe injury, the physical complications of their condition are the first to come to the fore.


Patients may be quick to seek primary care, urgent care, or the services of a specialist after experiencing tinnitus, a sudden sensitivity to light, or other signs of sensory impairment. However, they are typically not as forthright about getting help for the mental health problems that may have arisen from their condition, such as feelings of anxiety and lack of motivation.  


It is important for patients, their families, medical professionals, and other major stakeholders in the continuum of patient care to look at sensory impairment from the lens of mental health and wellness as well as on its own. Here’s a briefer on the relationship between sensory impairment and mental health and what it will take to promote holistic healing: 


How Are Sensory
Impairment and Mental Health Interlinked?
 


Several reputable studies in the field of modern medicine have chronicled the link between sensory impairment and mental health. Evidence has emerged that people who suffer from sensory impairments are at elevated risk for mental health conditions like depression and anxiety. They are also more susceptible to substance use disorder and suicidal ideation.   


Possible associations between sensory impairment and mental health include barriers to communicating, socialising, exercising full agency in everyday matters like doing well in school or at work, and obtaining the essential services needed to have a good quality of life. Each situation depends on factors like the person’s age, genetic predisposition, and socioeconomic circumstances. All the same, it’s crucial to be able to draw these connections so that a patient can maintain their physical health and develop a strong foundation for their mental health at the same time.  


The Effects of Sensory Impairment on Mental Health and Well-Being 


Sensory impairments can have a significant impact on a person’s mental health and well-being. They may experience the following hardships as a result of their impairment:   


Poor Quality of Life 


It may be more difficult for someone struggling with a sensory impairment to exercise, eat a nutritious diet, and enjoy the same activities that used to give them joy and fulfilment. This dip in their overall quality of life can affect their immunity from other illnesses and increase the risk for mental health problems like depression. 


Social Isolation 


People with sensory impairments often voice that they feel cut off from people in their communities because they have a harder time communicating and meeting the same social expectations. As a consequence, they may feel ashamed about the change in their social habits and become more emotionally withdrawn. 


Anxiety 


Someone with a significant sensory impairment may also develop anxiety, thus experiencing debilitating fear and panic about what they can’t do and how little control they have over their situation. This, in turn, can get in the way of day-to-day functions and manifest in the form of physical symptoms like chest pains and heart palpitations from panic attacks. 


Depression and Loss of Motivation 


When sensory impairment gets worse and interferes with the person’s quality of life, they may develop major depressive disorder and struggle with constant feelings of sadness and loss of motivation. Depression can further lead to sleep problems, a significant change in the person’s energy levels and appetite, memory problems, and increased difficulty when it comes to making decisions 


Risk of Developing Substance Use Disorder 


A sensory impairment also elevates the risk of substance use disorder in the future. Without the treatment or social support that they need to manage their condition, people with sensory impairments may turn to alcohol or drugs as a coping mechanism. 


Suicide 


Lastly, it cannot be ignored that the feelings of shame, helplessness, anger, or isolation that come with a sensory impairment may also put a person at risk for suicide. A 2021 study published in the British Medical Journal revealed that people from English households who had visual or hearing sensory impairments were twice as likely to have suicidal ideation and thrice as likely to report a suicide attempt in the past year compared to people without impairments. Timely intervention and support are vital in saving lives and helping people believe that life is worth living. 


Holistic and Empowering Treatment Approaches for Sensory Impairment and Mental Health Conditions 


Since sensory impairment and mental health are interlinked, it is necessary for their treatment pathways to cross. On the side of healthcare, clinicians must be aware of the possibility of comorbid mental illnesses occurring in their patients with sensory impairments. They must be ready to work with specialists outside their discipline to ensure that patients can get treated not only for visible physical complications, but also for other afflictions that are initially invisible. 


Solutions lie in clear and accurate diagnoses, early interventions, and continuous treatment of complications paired with mental health interventions like therapy and counselling. And above all, stakeholders must work for inclusive healthcare delivery that does away with stigmatising sensory impairment issues, disability, and mental health problems. 


Despite their sensory impairment issues, patients deserve holistic healing and must be empowered to seek happy, healthy, and self-driven lives. If you work in healthcare, seek knowledge and training for holistic approaches. If you’ve got a loved one who’s currently coping with a sensory impairment, find ways to make them feel valued and supported—and let them know that they’ll never be alone even as they navigate even the most difficult of days. 


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