Deaf people are suffering from a reduction in the provision of specialist care and poor access to communication support and information when they are diagnosed with mental health issues.
That is the view of Roger Hewitt, CEO, British Society for Mental Health and Deafness, speaking at a session of the The London Assembly Health Committee at City Hall this afternoon.
The committee heard how disabled and deaf people are more likely to experience mental health problems, like anxiety and depression.
Hewitt said: “The biggest issues for deaf people in this area are communication and a lack of access to information. There are services available including the South West London Mental Health Trust in Tooting, but most deaf people are referred to a generic service.
“New research, not yet published, reveals that Deaf people have a better recovery rate with peer to peer support. There are a few deaf counsellors available but it is presumed that CCG’s (Clinical Commissioning Groups) are often prevented from using external counsellors”
Hewitt said the British Society had been funded to train Deaf people to become counsellors. Seventeen counsellors qualified under this scheme and were operating in different PCT’s (Primary Care Trusts) around the country. However when the change from PCT’s to CCG’s happened in 2013 a lot of the services were lost. “Now there are only a few CCG’s who are paying for these PWP’s (Psychological Wellbeing Practitioners)” he said.
“In the last ten years we’ve lost a lot of specialist Social Worker’s working with Deaf people. They used to be a pathway into housing and jobs but now Deaf people are referred to generic social workers, most of whom are unaware of their specific issues. Instead the responsibility has fallen on voluntary organisations who have had to take up this work”
The meeting formed part of a series of Health Committee sessions looking at mental health inequalities for marginalised groups. It looked at the specific challenges faced by Disabled and Deaf people in accessing appropriate mental health support in London and what the Mayor could do to support better access to these services.
Joan Hutton, Head of Adult Social Care at the London Borough of Lewisham, highlighted the shortage of available BSL interpreters as a barrier for access to preventative and ongoing mental health support.
“In the last decade more people have trained as interpreters but what is lacking is the funding to hire them.” she said. “Contracts are given to generic language agencies who source practitioners who are not at an adequate level”
Roger Hewitt added: “Some interpreters refuse to work in the mental health field because of the risk to themselves. It is a very stressful area to work in”
Hewitt also attacked the lack of deaf awareness among mental health professionals. He said it was “appalling” despite it being ten years since the Dept of Health recommended Deaf awareness training for all health professionals in their report “Towards equal access”. “Some authorities are good but many don’t want to spend the money” he said.
He said the British Society had delivered a number of Mental Health First Aid courses around the country and these had led to some deaf people identifying mental health problems they didn’t realise they had.
Deaf people are twice as likely to suffer from depression as hearing people.
He said he was concerned that helplines including Samaritans and Crisis didn’t have an immediate accessible service for Deaf people. The Samaritans have a text service but Hewitt claims “You are lucky if you get a response in two hours”. Emails took 24 hours to get a response. “That is not good for someone in crisis” he said.
Hewitt also warned the committee: “Sudden hearing loss can cause serious mental health problems and it is important these people have the right support and knowledge”
Dr Onkar Sahota AM, the Health Committee Chair had begun the proceedings by apologising for the lack of a BSL interpreter for the public audience and webcast. The GLA were unable to locate an available qualified interpreter who was willing to be broadcast. Dr Onkar did promise that there would be a BSL summary of the meeting available afterwards along with the transcript.
The London Assembly Health Committee heard evidence from:
Joan Hutton, Head of Adult Social Care, LB Lewisham and representative of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services
Alessandro Storer, Equality Improvement Manager, MIND
Roger Hewitt, CEO, British Society for Mental Health and Deafness
Richard Holmes, Regional Campaigns Officer (London), Royal National Institute for Blind People