Obtaining mental health services is a personal and private decision. It can also be very challenging – and especially challenging for people who are deaf or hard of hearing.
In the state of Michigan alone, there are about 40,000 Deaf people and about 1 million people who are hard of hearing. However there are only a few mental health professionals who are qualified to treat them.
For example, the only available substance abuse services in Michigan provide interpreters just 3 days a week. So for the other days, Deaf and hard of hearing patients are unable to get treatment. So how is the Deaf community in Michigan fighting to change this?
The Michigan chapter of the National Association of Social Work (NASW) is trying to pass a bill to make mental health services more accessible by improving communication access to mental health.
For over 2 years, the task force has been led by Kathleen Mitchell and June Walatkiewicz. HB 4713 and 4714 is being supported by Representative Martin Howrylak and Representative Phil Phelps. But that's not enough.
They need more support!
We reached out to Kathleen Mitchell to learn more about why this bill is crucial for the Deaf community.
Based on my years of experience working with the Deaf community in mental health services, my observation is that it's heart-breaking and frustrating. Because there is no standard of care in the state of Michigan for those who are Deaf, hard of hearing and DeafBlind. There's nothing.
This means some providers are open-minded. They're willing to learn and hire interpreters for the appointment and make other accommodations. However other providers just don't care. They know the state doesn't require that standard of care. They say "the state already has a policy established and that's what we're going to follow." And that's the problem right there.
Another frequent problem is the risk of being misdiagnosed as a result of language deprivation amongst the deaf community -- lack of exposure to the english language while growing up in addition to other reasons as well. Doctors do not understand this and assume that it’s simply the result of cognitive impairment -- but that’s not the case and I see a lot of that in this field.
The final major issue is how one conducts an assessment which is critical for effective treatments, results and services.
By passing this bill it will greatly reduce this problem by allowing us to focus on the issues. Right now this bill doesn’t exist and because of that there’s no mandate from the state except the bare minimum requirements. We need to put an end to this.
In 2008 the National Association of the Deaf (NAD), released their statement saying those who are Deaf and hard of hearing are members of a cultural and linguistic minority group. It’s their human right to obtain barrier-free access to health care and mental health services.