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How to support deaf children’s mental health and wellbeing at school

Published Date: 07 Dec 2020
Photo: Read our tips on how to protect deaf children's mental health in school

The coronavirus pandemic has brought to the fore the importance of good mental health and well–being, so knowing what we know about the difficulties and barriers deaf children and young people face, how can we best support and promote their mental health?

There is little doubt that deafness, alongside a range of environmental and individual factors, such as such as gender, age of identification and personality, have a wide ranging impact on the communication, learning and social and emotional needs of deaf children. But just being deaf in itself does not increases mental health difficulties in fact some studies report that those with milder hearing loss are more likely to report problems with emotional wellbeing.

We recently carried out a literature review into emotional wellbeing of deaf children and young people. Studies tell us that age appropriate communication and language skills, good self-esteem and positive self-identity, alongside the consistent use of hearing aids and cochlear implants, can all improve emotional wellbeing. Our website provides more information for families on emotional wellbeing of deaf children.

But it’s important to remember that deaf children will also experience the same mental health issues and triggers that all children do. In light of this we asked The Anna Freud Centre, who work with families, young people and schools in England to transform mental health, what their top tips for education professionals would be.

1) You are never too young to start talking about mental health

Understanding what mental health is, having the language to talk about it and knowing when to seek help is key to helping children understand how to look after their own mental health. Take a look at this animation and toolkit for schools.

2) Encourage children to talk about and name emotions and feelings, theirs and others

Deaf children may lack the vocabulary to talk about their own emotions and feelings and struggle to understand how they and others feel. The mentally healthy schools resource page has lots of ideas to support emotional literacy. Older children will benefit from the jargon buster which gives clear explanations of mental health terms and conditions.

3) Get to know and plan for triggers

Deaf children are more vulnerable during times of transition and change because they may lack the vital skills they need to navigate new experiences successfully. The Anna Freud Centre have produced guides and information on talking to children about coronavirus, coming back to school and managing unexpected endings and transitions. The early years page also supports families during times of change.

4) Look out for changes in behaviour

Changes in behaviour are often an indication of things not being right. Deaf child and young people who have mental health difficulties are more likely to display mood disorders such as anxiety and depression which may be harder to spot. Think about using questionnaires and assessments to get information about how children are feeling and changes to well-being.

5) Support children with relationships and belonging

Good social skills and deaf awareness are essential for the development and maintenance of long-term relationships which can, in turn, promote good emotional wellbeing. Deaf children who struggle to form and maintain friendships may become isolated or bullied. There is also guidance to help schools think about how to support children and young people to feel connected and a valued part of the community.

6) Set up a peer support group

Many children and young people find it easier to talk to their peers first, before they talk to others such as family members or professionals. There is information available about setting up a peer support group.

7) The role of schools

Schools play a key role in ensuring deaf children are fully included, promoting emotional wellbeing and identifying early behaviour changes. Parents see schools and teachers as the first port of call when raising concerns about their child’s emotional wellbeing and mental health and are more likely to seek advice or help from a teacher than any other professional or service. Find out more about the mental health landscape in England, in your local area and how to set up a whole school approach to supporting children’s mental well-being.

Emma Fraser

Teacher of the Deaf, Policy and Campaigns
National Deaf Children's Society