Parents of Children with Hearing Loss Report Elevated Pandemic-Related Anxiety, Depression and PTSD

Parents of children with hearing loss reported that the pandemic increased symptoms of anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), resulting not only from school closures, job changes and other exposures but also as a result of the pandemic’s impact on their well-being, emotions and ability to sleep well and care for children, according to a study by University of Miami Miller School of Medicine researchers published in PLOS ONE.

Ivette Cejas, Ph.D.
Ivette Cejas, Ph.D.

“This is important because we know that parents have a crucial impact on children’s outcomes, particularly when we are talking about the population of children with hearing loss,” said Ivette Cejas, Ph.D., director of family support services at the Children’s Hearing Program and associate professor of otolaryngology at the Miller School.

Even before the pandemic, parents of children with hearing loss reported higher levels of parenting stress than parents of children with normal hearing. If left unaddressed, parenting stress could increase tension at home, as well as impact hearing loss treatment adherence, parental involvement and overall outcomes for these children, according to Dr. Cejas.

“This study highlights the need to evaluate the mental health of not only children with hearing loss, but also their families,” Dr. Cejas said. “Then we have to provide the support they need, so that they are better equipped to care for these children.”

Survey of Pandemic Exposure and Impact

Dr. Cejas and Miller School colleagues studied 103 parents of children with mild to more severe and profound hearing loss. Using various surveys, including those for anxiety, depression and PTSD, the researchers studied whether parental distress was related more to being exposed to COVID-19 or to overall impact from the pandemic.

“Exposure includes the impact from school closures, being around people diagnosed with COVID, changes in employment. Impact, on the other hand, is more the effect that the pandemic had on overall well-being, quality of sleep and the ability to care for children,” Dr. Cejas said.

They found that more than half (55%) of parents surveyed in June and July 2020 reported elevated symptoms of anxiety: 16% scored in the clinically significant range for depression, and 20% reported elevated symptoms of PTSD. While both impact and exposure predicted COVID-related parental distress, impact had a stronger effect on their symptoms of depression and PTSD.

“This study shows the extent to which parents of children with hearing loss may not be in the best state to totally support their kids with special needs,” Dr. Cejas said.

Multidisciplinary Care for Pediatric Hearing Loss

The results highlight the benefits of having an interdisciplinary, multidisciplinary and holistic pediatric hearing loss program, like the Miller School’s Children’s Hearing Program.

“We have one of a few pediatric hearing loss programs in the nation that offers dedicated psychology, social work and educational support, in addition to otology and audiology,” Dr. Cejas said. “Our full-time providers are actively in the clinic with audiologists and with our speech therapists, to be able to provide that comprehensive care to all the children and families that walk through our doors.”

The next steps in the care of these children include universally screening families for mental health distress and providing access to needed mental health services to treat mental health disorders and intervene early, potentially preventing those disorders in people who are at risk, she said.

“This study is an eye opener and allows us to be more sensitive about approaching our families and normalizing mental health suffering for families that seek hearing loss care for their children,” Dr. Cejas said. “Basically, we’re saying, ‘You’re not alone in this, and we’re here to help you through it.’”

Miller School coauthors on the study are Meredith A. Holcomb, Au.D., CCC-A; Chrisanda Sanchez, Au.D.; and Jennifer Coto, Ph.D.

Tags: anxiety, Children's Hearing Program, COVID-19 pandemic, depression, Dr. Ivette Cejas, pediatric hearing loss, PLOS One, PTSD