Definition of Mental Health
Mental Health is a condition of well-being in relation to self and others characterized by such qualities as positive self-esteem, accurate perception of others and the world, stability and appropriateness in mood, balance and purposiveness in behaviour, dependable sense of identity and values, adaptability to one’s environment, ability to engage in productive work and fulfilling love, and commitment to a source of devotion beyond oneself.
As such, mental health is an active process, not merely the absence of illness. (Aist 1990)
“The Deaf person’s greatest dream is to be accepted as a person in their own right. To be a full contributing member of society, who is entitled to all rights and all opportunities offered to other people, and to have the right to an own language and culture.”
Health services for Deaf people should be made accessible in his/her first and often only language, Sign Language.
Without fluency in sign language most health practitioners are unable to ensure elicit essential symptoms of mental or physical distress from a Deaf person. This fundamental communication failure is a serious infringement of their human rights and leads to inappropriate hospitalisation without informed consent, inappropriate treatment and aftercare.
Issues in Mental Health & Deafness
There are mental health implications for all groups especially those experiencing restricted opportunities and sometimes discrimination. Deaf people often face significant additional challenges, as their language of choice, Sign Language, is different from that of their family and society.
In South Africa, there is limited knowledge of deafness amongst professionals working in the area of Mental Health.
Projects in the field of Mental Health and Deafness, role-players in the field and interested parties in Southern Africa/Africa need to be identified and the support and involvement of professionals and the broader community explored.
People working in the area need specialist knowledge of issues such as Deaf Culture, Deaf Identity and the necessary Communication Skills including Sign Language, to effectively communicate, assess and treat Deaf clients.
There is a lack of formal government recognition of the need for a specialised mental health service with suitable skilled staff for Deaf people.
The South African Society for Mental Health and Deafness is a national organization that promotes accessible mental health services of high quality for all persons with a hearing loss.