Guidance to improve Deaf people’s access to mental health services
As many as two in three Deaf people in the UK struggle with
mental health problems, but most find it too difficult to access
for commissioners of primary care mental health services for deaf
people from the Joint Commissioning Panel for Mental
Health (JCPMH) and Deaf health charity SignHealth, calls for
improvement to deaf people’s access to mental health services.
Despite having poorer mental health than the rest of the
population, the 60,000 people across the UK who use sign language
as their main language often come up against barriers when seeking
mental health services.
The difficulties Deaf people face when seeking mental health
help are often woefully misunderstood by commissioners of NHS
services, who in some cases assume that booking a British Sign
Language (BSL)/English interpreter is enough.
This does not work for most deaf people, and can often make
mental health treatments less effective as the three-way
conversation can cause stress or misunderstanding. Deaf people
should be able to choose to see a therapist fluent in sign
language, as recommended by the guide.
The guide’s recommendations for commissioners of primary mental
health services could make a dramatic change to the mental health
of many Deaf people.
Video: Guidance to improve Deaf people’s access to mental
This video highlights ten key recommendations for improving
mental health services for Deaf people, translated into British
Sign Language (BSL). Guidance for commissioners of primary care
mental health services for deaf people has been produced by the
Joint Commissioning Panel for Mental Health, led by Royal College
of Psychiatrists and Deaf charity SignHealth.
President, Royal College of
Psychiatrists, Professor Sir Simon Wessely: “Everyone
should have equal access to effective mental health services.
It is important that commissioners take on board the
recommendations within this guide to make this a reality for Deaf
people. As Deaf people have increased vulnerability for mental
health problems, it is essential that they are able to access
effective, evidence based, mental health services that match the
specific challenges they face.”
Chief executive, SignHealth, James
Watson-O’Neill: “I am really pleased the Royal College and
the JCPMH decided to produce this guide with SignHealth. All too
often Deaf people are forgotten about and overlooked. It’s great to
see recognition of the challenges Deaf people face, and also some
of the simple steps commissioners can take. I hope commissioners
will see this guide as helpful and begin to improve access in their
Ten key messages for commissioners within the
- Deaf people find it difficult to access healthcare, face
communication barriers and, as a consequence, have poorer mental
and physical health than the rest of the population.
- Everyone who uses mental health services should have equitable
access to effective interventions, and equitable experiences and
outcomes. Under the Equality Act 2010 deaf people are included as
having ‘protected characteristics’.
- Due to their unique life experiences, Deaf people require
different primary mental health car. Commissioners should
commission appropriate cultural and linguistic provisions when
planning services for Deaf people.
- Psychological therapy in British Sign Language (BSL) is as cost
effective, if not moreso, than a hearing therapist using a
- Deaf people should be able to choose
to receive primary care psychological therapy services in BSL
directly from a BSL practitioner, without needing a sign language
interpreter, if that is their choice.
- A comprehensive commissioning strategy is required to enable an
appropriate BSL psychological therapy service to be available.
- Commissioners need to ensure that Deaf people have a clear care
pathway that is equitable to the general population.
- Commissioners need to include Deaf professionals in their
workforce planning strategy.
- Deaf people need to be involved with the ongoing development of
Deaf primary care mental health services.
- Where services are commissioned that
require sign language interpretation, commissioners must ensure the
provision of interpreters is of high a standard, as highlighted in
NHS England’s Quality standards based on the Principles for
High Quality Interpreting and Translation Services in Primary Care