The lived experience of depression among culturally Deaf adults
Culturally Deaf adults lost hearing at early ages, communicate primarily in American Sign Language (ASL), and self-identify as culturally Deaf. Communication barriers lead to isolation, low self-esteem, abuse, and inadequate health care. Screening Deaf patients for depressive symptoms poses challenge. Nurses are rarely familiar with ASL, and depression screening tools aren’t easily translated from English to ASL. Consequently, Deaf adults are not adequately screened for depression. Qualitative interviews were conducted with culturally Deaf adults, and certified interpreters helped to enhance understanding. Text was generated from interview transcriptions and researcher observations. No novel depressive symptoms were described. Various ASL signs were used to represent depression; two participants used a unique gesture that had no meaning to others. Childhood experiences leading to depression included sexual or physical abuse, feeling ostracized from family and like a burden. Suicidal gestures communicated severity of depression. Adults felt interpreters were unwelcome during mental health encounters. No participants were asked about depressive symptoms despite frank manifestations of depression. Study describes antecedents and consequences of depressive symptoms among Deaf adults. Understanding symptom manifestations and challenges experienced by Deaf patients helps identify those at risk for depression, thereby reducing morbidity and mortality.