I recently read Breaking the Patterns of Depression by Michael D. Yapko, PH.D. Although the author did not specifically mention late-deafness, it is easy to understand why many people who become deaf spend some time lingering in the stage of depression. I receive a lot of telephone calls, letters, and e-mails from people who tell me they are depressed. Their message is usually the same “Help me. I am so depressed. I will never be happy again”. I can easily relate to their anguish as I spent many troublesome years in the same state of mind. I read this book because I am trying to process that time period of my life and hopefully help others as I do it by learning about the dynamics of depression. I have italicized some of the key concepts in the book, followed by my thoughts on how these concepts might relate to depression in individuals who are late-deafened.
Depressed people think about their life experiences, project hurtful and distorted meaning and then make the mistake of believing themselves. I like the analogy used by my USF college professor, Dr. Emmener to explain how past life experiences influence reactions to future experiences. If you know something about computers you know that the information is stored in the hard drive. In this analogy, the hard drive holds all of our life experiences. When you type in a word on the keyboard, such as late-deafness, it searches the hard drive for meaning, and then pops up on the monitor. Each person is different. When they type in deafness a different picture may appear on the monitor. Here’s what came up on my monitor years ago: Before I became deaf, my hard drive contained life experiences that centered around feelings of guilt and shame. When I typed in the words “deaf” the picture that came up on the monitor was one that showed Lois deserved what has happened to her. This is definitely a hurtful, distorted way of looking at deafness, and depressed people, such as I made the mistake of believing myself.
Depressed people are often lacking basic skills. People who become deaf are lacking skills to effectively communicate again. Some of these skills are taught in speechreading, sign, and communiction strategies classes. Learning skills develops abilities not DISabilities. Problem solving is another important skill and often people who are depressed have not developed this skill. It is very challenging to take the communication obstacles we encounter in everyday life and respond to them with problem solving techniques. There are many communication alerting devices available for the sounds around us, however many folks avoid setting up their environment with these devices. Depression sets in when we choose not to respond in a positive way and develop skills.
Depressed people are often preoccupied with self. Sometimes the late-deafened person is so focused on what deafness is doing to his/her life that that the individual fails to understand that family members and friends have also been affected by the loved one’s deafness. When a person is preoccupied with self, the individual wants his/her needs met and is not thinking about meeting the needs of others. Consequently relationships start to suffer which only fuels the depression. Additionally, an emphasis on self can lead to preoccupation with one’s own feelings. Any fluctuation of feelings, which is normal in life, is over dramatized.
Yapko, M. (1997). Breaking the patterns of depression. New York: Doubleday.
(A reprint of an article I wrote 20 years ago, when I was the founding President of ALDA-Suncoast of Florida, a support group for people who have become deaf. The article appeared in the newsletter, ALDA-Sun. At the time, I was going back to school to change professions from being a foreign language teacher to becoming a mental health counselor.)