Helping veterans with hearing loss and tinnitus can improve mental health

by Alicia Rennoll

There are around 300,000 veterans living with hearing loss in the UK, according to The Royal British Legion. In addition to being at a greater risk of PTSD, depression, and anxiety, many vets are also battling psychological distress from hearing problems.

“Hearing loss is one of the hidden injuries of conflict which is often forgotten about, and consequently many veterans don’t seek support. I would urge anyone affected from a Service-related hearing problem, however big or small, to contact the Legion for help,” said Steven Baynes, Head of Grants and Social Policy at The Royal British Legion. Getting help quickly is key, because hearing loss can have a big effect on our vets’ quality of life and mental health.

What are the key psychological issues faced by veterans in the UK and how can they be overcome?

The Effect of Hearing Loss on Mental Health

Hearing injuries are the most common service-related medical issue for vets – more so than traumatic brain injuries or PTSD. It is easy to see how failing to get help can exacerbate the isolation that many vets already feel when coming home after a long tour or mission. Many vets who have hearing loss do not seek help. Research undertaken by the American Psychological Society has found that those who battle hearing loss without help are around 50% more likely to face sadness or depression, than those who receive treatment. The case is particularly dire for older vets, since sensorial decline in seniors is common irrespective of age. In their case, normal hearing loss is exacerbated by tinnitus due to noise exposure. The latter can arise from exposure to aircraft, gunfire, bombs etc.

What Help is Available for Vets?

The Veterans Hearing Fund (VHF), launched in 2015, is an excellent option for vets facing hearing loss. Staff at the VHF report that less than 2,000 veterans have applied for help. This means there are hundreds of thousands who are missing out an opportunity to improve their quality of life and ability to interact with friends and family.

The VHF specialises in the type of hearing loss that is common among vets and offers unique solutions to this group. In the case of tinnitus, a treatment called ‘Levo’ relies on an iPod device to treat a patient while they are sleeping – since the sleeping brain is more responsive to this treatment. ‘Levo’ essentially mimics the specific tinnitus sound heard by a patient. Over time, the brain learns to ‘ignore’ the tinnitus sound, significantly improving a patient’s quality of life.

Hearing Loss and Stress

Veterans may need psychological help to deal with the stress of hearing loss and tinnitus. Vets and their partners or spouses can obtain expert help from the NHS Veterans’ Mental Health Transition, Intervention and Liaison Service, or the NHS Veterans’ Mental Health Complex Treatment Service. Both these services are available throughout the UK and are provided by mental health specialists who know about the specific challenges faced by veterans and their families. Not only do these services help with psychological symptoms, but they also provide other needs that can affect mental health and wellbeing, such as social support, housing, substance abuse, etc. Treatment for stress caused by hearing loss and the veteran experience as a whole, ranges from psychotherapy, right through to group therapy for specific needs, such as including anger management and stress.

Stress Relief

Studies have shown that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) alongside standard therapy can help patients with tinnitus. An integrative approach that also includes stress reduction has shown to be useful. The British charity Help for Heroes, which provides facilities for British servicemen and women who have been injured, notes the importance of holistic practices such as yoga for stress relief. Veterans receiving treatment for tinnitus and other hearing conditions may find that treatment takes time; in the meanwhile, they can lower stress levels by taking part in natural mindfulness-based practices. Help for Heroes has recovery centres throughout the UK, where veterans can inquire about yoga, found in several studies to reduce symptoms of depression and PTSD.

Where do I start?

Contact details are shown below for services that can help veterans deal with the physical and psychological symptoms of work-related hearing loss. Men aren’t notoriously fantastic at seeking help, but taking control of hearing loss and tinnitus offers so many benefits to veterans, their families, and anyone around them, it seems like taking a risk and taking the first step is a small price to pay for what could be a significant uplift in overall wellbeing.

For further information and help with this issue, contact:

Help for Heroes

Phone 0300 303 9888 – Monday to Friday, 9am – 5pm (calls to this number are charged at your standard network rate)

email getsupport@helpforheroes.org.uk

Contact information for recovery centres around the UK can be found here

 

NHS Veterans’ Mental Health Transition, Intervention and Liaison Service

North of England TIL: phone 0303 123 1145 or email vwals@nhs.net

For other parts of the UK, see contact details here

 

Veterans Hearing Fund (VHF)

For further information on VHF services, call 0808 802 8080 or email medicalfunds@britishlegion.org.uk

 

 

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