The Deaf community has long grappled with limited access to sign language and a lack of Deaf awareness among mental health professionals, resulting in inadequate support and insufficient resources. The consequences of these challenges are profound, with at least triple the incidence of adverse mental health issues experienced by deaf people relative to the broader mainstream population. This has been brought into relief by the loss of several Deaf individuals to suicide in the past year. These tragic events underscore the urgent need for improved mental health services that are not only accessible but are culturally and linguistically sensitive.

The critical importance of mental health within the Deaf community is undeniable, and I am determined to be part of the solution. My intention is to contribute to the well-being and quality of life of deaf and hard of hearing individuals by improving mental health outcomes.

I organised a one-day conference: AUSLAN SAVED MY LIFE! – the importance of embedding culture and language in mental health service provision for the Deaf community in Melbourne on 12 April 2024. This was partly sponsored by the Institute for Health Transformation and held at Deakin Downtown.

The one-day event which included the Deaf community, health professionals and researchers, explored mental health and the need to improve communication access across the life course and mental health service provision for Deaf Australians.

It was a resounding success, bringing together diverse perspectives and experiences related to Deaf mental health. The conference featured four special guests, including Dr. Wyatte Hall, Assistant Professor of Public Health Sciences at the University of Rochester Medical Center in Rochester, New York from the USA and Dr. Dainius Pūras, former UN Special Rapporteur on the right to physical and mental health from Lithuania. Local presenters Dr Ruth Vine, the first Australian Government Deputy Chief Medical Officer for Mental Health, appointed in 2020 and Deaf First Nations representative Jody Barney, an esteemed Aboriginal disability communications consultant added depth and richness to the discussions with their unique perspectives and experiences. The conference also included a presentation by myself, where I shared the findings of my qualitative research, highlighting the importance of accessible language in supporting Deaf mental health outcomes.

100 people from the Deaf community, First Nations people, and professionals attended in person. Additionally, over 100 tickets were sold for the online component of the conference. The event provided a platform for meaningful discussions and networking opportunities among attendees. It emphasised the critical role of language, particularly Auslan, in the lives of Deaf individuals and highlighted the need for culturally and linguistically appropriate mental health services.

The feedback from onsite and online attendees for the conference was overwhelmingly positive:

“It worked, and I appreciated the effort it took to organising a hybrid event, and one that involves a lot of accessibility built into it. I also valued the range of presentations not just locally in Australia but from abroad. It is increasingly important to see Deaf Leadership and Deaf-led research based on community needs. Bravo!”

Overall, the conference was a testament to the resilience and strength of the Deaf community and served as a catalyst for continued advocacy and action to improve mental health outcomes for Deaf individuals.

A huge thank you to the Deaf Mental Health Conference sponsors without which the event would not have been possible.

Read more about the author, PhD canditate Ramas McRae