Soundfair welcomes Minister Hunt’s comments on mental health support during COVID-19, but helplines are inaccessible for many.

Minister Hunt encouraged all Australians, and Victorians in particular, to look after their mental health, saying ‘help is available’. He highlighted that there has been a marked increase in the use of helplines. In response, the Government is providing more than $500 million extra funding, including funding for the Beyond Blue’s Coronavirus Wellbeing Support Service, Lifeline, SANE, headspace and Kids Helpline.

Dr Caitlin Barr, CEO of Soundfair, said: “Phone lines can be inaccessible if you have a hearing condition or are deaf. Using your hearing alone to communicate can be difficult to impossible and, therefore, people with hearing conditions are far less likely to call a helpline. When people with hearing conditions do seek mental health support via helplines, this population’s needs are not met. Many people with hearing conditions, especially tinnitus, find that the people on the call are not knowledgeable or experienced with the consequences of these conditions. Mental health helplines are not able to offer appropriate support for people with hearing conditions.”

As a not-for-profit committed to creating a world of hearing equality, Soundfair recognises that having a hearing condition means you are more likely, in general, to experience mental health conditions and reduced mental wellbeing. COVID has amplified this because of increased isolation, with distancing making it harder to hear. Mandatory face masks have also made communication more difficult for many. There is, therefore, a far greater need for mental health support in this population group.

Dr Caitlin Barr, CEO of Soundfair, said: “We call on Minister Hunt to expand the range of mental health services available to support Australians during COVID and beyond. There is a huge unmet need for live-caption supported video conferencing for mental health support, with hearing-condition aware counsellors.”