Among the one in five Alabamians who will need mental health services in their lifetimes are more than 39,000 people who are deaf or hard of hearing. Because deafness or hearing loss poses unique challenges in coping with stresses of daily life and with accessing and receiving treatment services, the Alabama Department of Mental Health has established an Office of Deaf Services to better serve deaf and hard of hearing Alabamians.
Less than 1,000 individuals are served annually in the state-operated facilities, while over 100,000 receive services in certified community-based programs.
People who are deaf or hard of hearing have difficulty finding services that are linguistically accessible to them. When they do find services where someone "signs," often those services do not take into account the special cultural and linguistic considerations that often make the difference between successful treatment and relapse and recidivism. Our programs will be designed by people who are deaf to not only be linguistically accessible but also culturally affirmative, giving the consumer every opportunity to make progress to recovery.
The heart of Alabama Department of Mental Health's deaf services program is a network of regionally based staff that specializes in working with people who are deaf or hard of hearing. Both clinicians and communication access team members work out of regional offices in order to be closer to consumers they serve. Based in community mental health centers, these coordinators are the first point of contact for services.
A network of small group homes has grown to serve as a vital part of a system of care, helping deaf people with mental illness who are need stable, but not ready to live independently in the community. Admission to the group homes is coordinated by the regional coordinators in conjunction with the local community mental health centers overseeing the programs. There is currently a 3-bed group home in Birmingham which is run by Jefferson-Blount-St. Clair Mental Health Authority. Another 3-bed group home in Mobile is run by the AltaPointe Health Systems. A 3-bed home for older deaf people near Huntsville is operated by Mountain Lakes Behavioral Health Center. There is also a 6-bed home in Clanton, designed for more challenging consumers, operated by Chilton-Shelby Mental Health Center. All these programs have ASL fluent staff.
Mental Health Interpreter Training
We have established a special training for interpreters to help them work better in mental health settings. This training will lead to a special certification as a qualified mental health interpreter. Alabama is the first state in the nation to specifically define what skills and knowledge are needed to work effectively as an interpreter in mental health settings. These standards are part of the Code of Alabama. Additional information can also be found at www.mhit.org
Alabama Department of Mental Health is committed to developing the BEST program for people with hearing loss in the country. We will also be working to develop:
Important Publications of Interest
Meeting the Mental Health Needs of Persons Who Are Deaf
Reducing the Use of Seclusion and Restraint Part III: Lessons From the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Communities
National Association of the Deaf Position Paper on Mental Health Services
Peer-Reviewed Articles Written by ODS Staff
Understanding Etiology of Hearing Loss as a Contributor to Language Dysfluency and its Impact on Assessment and Treatment of People who are Deaf in Mental Health Settings
Mental Health Interpreting: Training, Standards and Certification
Mental Health Interpreting with Language Dysfluent Deaf Clients
Serving Severely Emotionally Disturbed Deaf Youth: A Statewide Program Model
Therapy Using Interpreters: Questions on the Use of Interpreters in Therapeutic Settings for Monolingual Therapists