Nov 012012

Jody Newman estimates that she’s been hospitalized 20 times in the past 20 years. To be honest, she says, she’s lost count.

“I had many counselors over the years, and they just didn’t work for me. I was suicidal, and didn’t know how to cope with myself or situations,” said Newman, 58, of St. Louis, through an American Sign Language interpreter one recent afternoon. “But not now.”

Two years ago Newman, who has been deaf since she was 5, met Irvine Stewart, and her life hasn’t been the same since. She’s happier; more stable.

Stewart is a caseworker and member of the Deaf Services Team at BJC Behavioral Health in Kirkwood. Laura Shapiro, clinical supervisor, and Sarah Lograsso, case manager, make up the rest of the team. All three are either deaf or hard of hearing. They are the only caseworkers of the sort in Missouri.

The team “came out of a need expressed during several town hall meetings of the deaf community here,” says Schapiro. “About 100 people showed up for each meeting, saying there are no clinicians we can go to who understand what we’re talking about.”

They were tired of trying to communicate through interpreters, Stewart says. Interpreters change the dynamic of counseling. Meanings get lost in translation without the patient realizing it, and it’s often hard for the psychiatrist to get a deaf client to understand his or her diagnosis through an interpreter because the client’s vocabulary is unique and often limited.

“It’s also not as intimate and the trust is harder to get,” Stewart says. “They don’t trust the third person. It’s awkward.”

BJC Behavioral Health treats clients with serious chronic mental illness, including depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Missouri has about 1,100 deaf people with those types of issues. And 20 percent of them are children.

Historically, the state of mental health treatment for deaf people has been dismal, which is odd, Shapiro points out, because there are two schools for the deaf here.

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By Cynthia Billhartz Gregorian

– Thanks to Cynthia Billhartz Gregorian, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 11/1/2012,