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  • Mental Health and the Deaf Community
  • A. L. Smit (bio) and Murdock Henderson (bio)

Concerned calls from the South African community led to a survey during 1976–1978 that included research into the psycho-socioeconomic situation of Deaf persons. Among the most commonly mentioned circumstances were feelings of rejection, loneliness, lack of human dignity, vulnerability, lack of skills development, and lack of belongingness. In order to meet the needs of Deaf South Africans, the South African National Council for the Deaf, which later became DeafSA) was founded. Deaf persons and families could consult this organization about challenges in regard to unemployment, family relationships, adjustment problems, and substance abuse; the service assisted many Deaf persons and their families in overcoming some of these difficulties. In 1995, when the new South Africa was coming into being, networks and partnerships were formed that resulted in the convening of an international symposium on mental health for Deaf persons with multiple disabilities in Worcester (Western Cape Province). This, in turn, led to increased interest by psychologists and psychiatrists in making local services more accessible to Deaf persons. The enormous communication barriers facing Deaf psychiatric patients in hospitals became obvious—a nearly complete absence of the use of sign language for communication was increasing the risk of misdiagnosis and inappropriate treatment.

Many schools for the Deaf had teams of psychologists, nurses, audiologists, social workers, and other clinicians until 1996. However, mental health services in schools for the Deaf had a setback in 1997 when the South African Schools Act was implemented, and many clinical staffs at these schools were reduced and phased out. The South African Society for Mental Health and Deafness was founded in 2003 by professionals to promote equal access to mental health services for deaf persons, and DeafSA nominated two South African mental health experts to serve on the World Federation of the Deaf ’s panel of experts on mental health from 2003 to 2007. The European Society for Mental Health and Deafness was very supportive, and its members played an important role in facilitation. For areas outside South Africa, the Africa Contact Group for Mental Health and Deafness was formed in 2004 when the Africa Workshop on Mental Health and Deafness took place, sponsored mainly by Foundation [End Page 517] Friends of Effatha (a nongovernmental organization, or NGO, from the Netherlands). Delegates from about 30 African countries attended. The outcomes included a plan of action and a declaration on equal access to mental health services. DeafNET was established in 2006 at the National Institute for the Deaf (NID) in partnership with Effatha, and tasked with the dissemination and exchange of knowledge and skills between Deaf communities and service providers, in order to improve the quality of life of Deaf persons and their families in Africa.

Designed as an outgrowth of a recent Third World Congress on Mental Health, DeafNET links South Africa with the rest of the continent on deafness topics. The newly established Intaba Institute and the NID Academy will have all the ingredients for pursuing the shared dreams of comprehensive mental health services for Deaf persons and their families in Africa.

The Intaba Institute has been designed to serve as a mobile NGO to meet the mental health needs of Deaf and hard of hearing people who live in developing countries. Its primary focus at the moment is on South Africa due to the constraints of the postapartheid period on the country’s disability communities. It is to be a three-pronged initiative: (a) the creation of a pediatric mental health program beginning with the NID Mental Health Clinic, Western Cape Province; (b) the creation of a training program for aspiring students and professionals who want to specialize in working with Deaf and hard of hearing people in a mental health capacity that is also aligned with collaboration with a local university system for accreditation; and (c) the creation of a community mental health center to serve as a focal point for the exchange of knowledge that is pertinent to mental health issues (e.g., HIV/AIDS, personal trauma, substance abuse, chronic depression, psychosis) among members of the Deaf community of Western Cape Province who desire such consultation. It is...


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pp. 517-518
Launched on MUSE
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