Karli Health Centre recognises the unique mental health needs of people who have significant to profound, early-life deafness. Most of these individuals use Auslan (Australian Sign Language) as their primary language of communication. In addition, these individuals live – on a daily basis – with communication barriers when they interact with the wider community. These, and other shared experiences, come together to create a sense of identity for most Deaf people. This identity is one in which they take pride and bonds people together into what is known as the Deaf community. This community is linguistically and culturally distinct from the wider Australian community.
As with any group of individuals, there are commonalities as well as individual differences. In acknowledging that no two Deaf people are the same, it is, nonetheless, possible to identify some of the challenges that Deaf people face in their day-to-day lives. These include:
- exclusion from the wider community most of the time and the isolation that can be experienced because of this exclusion,
- gaps in knowledge due to difficulty in accessing information, including the inability to learn incidentally by overhearing information around them,
- potential abuse and discrimination – sometimes unintentional – meted out by a wider community who are often oblivious to the auditory-bias almost everything in our community has (a simple example, smoke detectors),
- ignorance in the wider community about the communication needs of Deaf people as well as their culture and norms, and
- difficulty in accessing services.
Then, when turning to the provision of mental health services, the difficulties become even more prominent and create substantial barriers to mainstream mental health services. Some of these difficulties are:
- lack of understanding by mental health professionals about Deaf individual’s cultural and linguistic differences,
- misunderstandings and misinterpretation about so called “Deaf behaviours”, with Deaf people’s behaviour(s) often being assessed as outside the norm of human behaviour,
- misunderstanding about the isolation that a Deaf person may be experiencing and seeing the solution to this to be participating in groups with hearing people, with whom the Deaf person does not have a shared identity,
- very few mental health professionals who are fluent in Auslan, and
- during in-patient treatment, extreme isolation as rarely do others – the other patients or staff – know anything about Auslan or Deaf culture and norms.
Karli Health Centre’s point of difference is that the language of service provision is Auslan and many of its staff have lived-experience of early-life deafness. Deaf community culture norms are understood and therapy can be undertaken in a space that is “Deaf-friendly”. Unlike mainstream mental health services, KHC practitioners are able to provide services without engaging interpreters and without the need to rapidly upskill themselves to understand the Deaf client’s differing perspective on the world. For more information, please contact us at Karli Health Centre
 a capital “D” is used to acknowledge Deaf people’s identification with the Deaf community