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Indigenous Deafness and Mental Health

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flagsDid you know?

  • ‘One in Six Australians is affected by hearing loss’[1]
  • ‘Prevalence rates of otitis media among Aboriginal children in Australia are well recognised as among the highest in the world’[2]
  • A Western Australian study carried out by the Centre for Indigenous Australian Education and Research estimates that 30% to 80% of Indigenous children of school age have some hearing loss. It is also stated that by adulthood hearing loss can be present in up to 70% of Aboriginal peoples[3]

Otitis Media (OM) is a major cause of hearing loss among many Indigenous people in Australia. OM is an ear disease of the middle ear and can be caused by an infection, bacteria or virus.

Otitis Media is more commonly associated with a mild to moderate hearing loss. If it is not successfully treated or diagnosed early, OM can permanently and severely affect hearing for life.

Many people are unaware they have a hearing loss or ‘are reluctant to admit to a hearing loss and it is commonly referred to as one of the hidden disabilities.'[4] The long term effects of hearing loss can be associated with a number of problems that may impact on the social and emotional well-being of the person.

The Deafness and Mental Health Statewide Consultation Service offers a program that aims to promote better mental health outcomes for Australian Indigenous people with a hearing loss.

The service provides:


Workshops offer information to health professionals and carers about deafness, and its implications in the mental health field. The workshops create awareness amongst providers to become more ‘deaf-friendly’, and in doing so improve outcomes for Indigenous Deaf or hard of hearing people.

Depending on the audience, we offer workshops ranging from 1 hour to a full day and provide information on:

  • Understanding the culture of Indigenous Deaf people in Australia
  • Implications for Indigenous people with a hearing loss in mental health – practical strategies
  • How services can improve access to Indigenous people with a hearing loss
  • How and why it is important to use interpreters

Costs may apply for non Queensland Health employees to attend the workshop.

For more information contact Jennifer D’Ath on (07) 3167 8430 or via email at jennifer_d’


Be Strong DVD

A DVD has been created called 'Be Strong', a film about Social and Emotional Well-being in the Indigenous Deaf Community. You can view the full version below or on YouTube.

The film hopes to assist with raising awareness among Indigenous Deaf people to the concepts and terminology used in mental health. It also an excellent resource for health professionals to be used as an educational tool.

'Be Strong' is an important mental health resource that is produced in Auslan with open captions. It provides informative descriptions of Social and Emotional Wellbeing (SEW) that include the four areas of wellbeing - spiritual, physical, social and emotional - as well as definitions of anxiety, depression and schizophrenia.

The Deafness and Mental Health Service has also developed an education booklet called My Australian Indigenous Deaf Wellbeing (PDF, 548.82 KB).

The booklet was created as an education resource that displays positive aspects of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island social and emotional wellbeing (SEW) and complements the 'Be Strong' DVD resource.


  1. Access Economics PTY Ltd. (2006), Listen Hear: The economic impact and cost of hearing loss in Australia. Victoria. 
  2. Lannigan, F J., O'Connor, T E. & Perry, C F.  (2009). Complications of otitis media in Indigenous and non-Indigenous children. Medical Journal of Australia, 191 (9): 61.
  3. Burrow, S., Galloway, A. & Weissofner, N. (2009). Review of educational and other approaches to hearing loss among Indigenous people. Indigenous Health Bulletin, 9(2): 1-37.
  4. Rope, B. (2005). Communication access for people with hearing/Deafness disability.  Conference proceedings: Disability and the Criminal Justice Conference Melbourne.
Last updated 21 June 2021
Last reviewed 17 May 2015