While this is a shattering event for the partner directly affected, research shows it also has a profound impact on the other partner as people struggle to cope with a new and frightening, silent reality.
For those newly experiencing deafness, support is urgently needed, as being unexpectedly thrust into a world of silence can be difficult to come to terms with. Recent research8 coupled with the testimony of those who contact Deafness Research UK for help, all highlight the need to give more comprehensive support to the estimated 150,000 people in the UK who find themselves suddenly deaf (1).
“While not ‘life-threatening’ in the usual sense, sudden deafness in adult life is ‘lifestyle-threatening’ and can result in depression, desperation and sometimes lead to thoughts of suicide,” said Vivienne Michael, Chief Executive of Deafness Research UK. “We are working hard to show people that there is light at the end of the tunnel and that help is available while the search continues for more effective treatments and cures for deafness. Communication is the key in both developing new avenues of research and in relationships – which means that specialist counselling and support for both partners can be the way to save relationships.”
As many as one in ten close relationships break down as a result of one partner becoming unexpectedly deaf (2), because the onset of sudden deafness imposes inevitable changes in day to day social and leisure activities, not just the deafened person, but the whole family. Striking the right balance between independence and practical support can be difficult and the natural anger that one or either partner experiences in this situation can lead to relationship breakdown.
While some partners report relationships becoming stronger post deafness, the majority say that their relationship has been effectively ‘destroyed’ (3) by deafness and it is often the hearing partner who has to contend with the fallout of grief and anger that sudden deafness can cause, not to mention the sometimes hostile public reaction and discrimination encountered by deaf people.
The trauma of sudden hearing loss is profound and as Deafness Research UK’s recently appointed Information and Outreach Adviser, Andrew Goodwin, can attest to. As someone who woke up one morning in exactly this position, Andrew has a unique insight into the trauma of hearing loss: “My life changed completely in an instant,” explained Andrew. “Because I lost my hearing I was unable to communicate, therefore I lost my job, my self esteem and my independence. I went into extreme depression and within three months of losing my hearing, unfortunately I was even thinking of suicide.” (4)
Andrew is not alone. Many who have responded to questionnaires or have offered their experiences as case studies describe graphic feelings of suicide (5) and depression and the end of existing relationships and the inability to forge new ones (6). The loss of natural verbal communication can lead very quickly to a loss of intimacy and natural expressions of love and affection are lost and along with it. The inability to talk through the burdens that unforeseen deafness can impose is also a serious threat to relationships, as the loss of a job can affect all the family finances.
Deafness Research UK’s information service supports those experiencing deafness by advising on how to access medical support, what treatments are available, helping people to understand and come to terms with their situation and provide hope for the future through the medical research we fund.
For information on deafness and deafness-related conditions e-mail
firstname.lastname@example.org or visit Deafness Research UK’s website at www.deafnessresearch.org.uk
Notes to editors:
1. Taken from ‘Hidden Lives; The psychological and social impact of becoming deafened in adult life.’ LINK Centre & The University of Greenwich. September 2005. Page 2.
2. Hidden Lives. Page 4
3. Hidden Lives. Page 4
4. Andrew Goodwin is the Outreach Officer for Deafness Research UK and is available for interview on request.
5. One million people commit suicide every year worldwide. Twenty million people attempt suicide every year and suicide remains the leading cause of death among under 35s.
6. Up to 40% of deaf people will experience a mental health problem at some point in their lives. Source: www.deafinfo.org.uk There are no formal figures for the number of suicides/self harm in this group, but anecdotal figures from current research and case studies produced by Deafness Research UK allow us to hypothesise that people in this group are at least of higher risk.
7. Hidden Lives is the most recent research, but numerous studies going back into the 1980s, 90s and 00s show similar findings. Details available on request.
About Deafness Research UK
- Deafness Research UK is the country’s only charity dedicated to finding new cures, treatments and technologies for deaf, hard of hearing and other hearing impaired people.
- The charity supports high quality medical research into the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of all forms of hearing impairment including tinnitus.
- The Deafness Research UK Information Service provides free information and advice based on the latest scientific evidence and informed by leading experts. The Information Service can be contacted on Freephone 0808 808 2222
- For more information on research into deafness, tinnitus and other hearing conditions, log on to the website at www.deafnessresearch.org.uk where you can access a wide range of information. Alternatively you can e-mail Deafness Research UK at
- One in seven people in the UK – almost nine million people – suffer hearing loss.
- Deafness Research UK was founded in 1985 by Lord (Jack) and Lady Ashley of Stoke.
- In January 2008, Action for Tinnitus Research (ATR) was linked with Deafness Research UK under a uniting direction order under section 96(6) of the Charities Act 1993.
Jon Gardner, BeyondPR. www.beyondpr.co.uk Mobile 07930 697773. Direct line 0114 275 6996. e-mail:
Ref: DRUK0269 – ‘Til Deaf Do Us part