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Peer support specialists help deaf Kentuckians access mental health care

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Monday, January 15, 2024   

Kentuckians who are deaf or hard-of-hearing face many challenges in accessing mental healthcare, and a new program aims to address the problem.

Nearly 700,000 - or 16% - of Commonwealth residents are deaf or hard of hearing, according to the state.

Brad Leedy - chief operating officer with Bridgehaven Mental Health Services - said the program, a partnership between Bridgehaven and the Kentucky Department of Behavioral Health, Developmental and Intellectual Disabilities, has trained eight deaf individuals to be peer support specialists - all of whom have struggled with depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, and other diagnoses.

He said they'll work with fellow Kentuckians in need of mental health services.

"Our goal is to reach out to that community," said Leedy, "because we know it's an underserved community in our state."

Leedy added that the peer specialists will host a series of free virtual discussions over the next several weeks, focused on the challenges deaf and hard-of-hearing people can face in getting mental-health care.

He said peer services can be requested, even if an individual is working with another provider in the state. Contact Leedy at 'BLeedy@bridgehaven.org' for information on the sessions.

Marcie Timmerman, executive director of the group Mental Health America of Kentucky, pointed out that providing mental-health care for this population goes beyond access to American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters.

"There's a very different culture amongst the deaf and hard of hearing, and you need that cultural competence," said Timmerman. "Not just ASL, right? You need the competence to go with it."

Research shows among deaf adults, rates of diagnosed depression or anxiety disorder are significantly higher and occur at an earlier age compared to hearing adults - and only a small number of deaf patients receive a medical interpreter.

The advocacy group DEAFlead runs a 24-hour video crisis line for FaceTime or video users of American Sign Language.

More information is on the group's website, or by video-calling 321-800-3323.



Disclosure: Mental Health America of Kentucky contributes to our fund for reporting on Health Issues, Mental Health, Social Justice. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.


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