My job brings me into contact with lots of people who are going through difficult times. I’m a personal injury lawyer and I advise former members of the armed forces who are suffering with various conditions. Hearing loss is a particular area of focus for me. I’m a relatively fit and healthy man in my mid-40s and, fortunately, haven’t struggled with mental health issues myself but I’m all too aware that it’s a fact of life for many.
While the physical challenges are profound, the mental impacts are just as debilitating. This week is Mental Health Awareness Week (18-24 May) and I’ve been reflecting on this topic in the context of the work I do.
What strikes me most is the fact that a lot of the people I support are my age. They’re young, with a full life ahead of them. But the impact of their hearing loss has taken a toll on their mental well-being – with a deep emotional and psychological trauma that cannot be seen.
Some of the things I take for granted as being easy to do, like hearing my children laugh and play; having a conversation in a room with someone; or socialising in crowded places during normal times are things my clients struggle to do. It’s frustrating, lonely and isolating for them – that they can no longer enjoy these everyday things. And it feels unfair and unjust.
Acquired hearing loss is largely considered an affliction of the elderly, but I see many young men and women who, after leaving the military, find themselves having to wear hearing aids, come to terms with the fact that their civilian careers are limited – feeling embarrassed, self-conscious and robbed of their freedoms.
Last year I successfully acted for the former Royal Marine, Alistair Inglis who was in his late ‘30s. He was awarded over £500,000 from the Ministry of Defence after it was proven that his hearing loss was caused by sustained and unprotected exposure to extraordinary noise levels during combat and in training.
The compensation award recognised the significant impact that Mr Inglis’ injuries have on his earning capacity, both now and for much of the rest of his life.
The judge rightly considered the detrimental effect of Mr Inglis’ hearing loss on his civilian career options, taking into account approximately 20 years of reduced earnings over the remainder of his working life, as well as a significant loss of pension. Mr Inglis will also have to pay for essential, costly hearing aids for the rest of his life.
And Alistair isn’t alone. I help thousands of people like Mr Inglis. It’s estimated that over 300,000 ex-service personnel are currently living with hearing loss in the UK. Many don’t make the link between their former military career and their hearing problems.
I’m deeply committed to my role, in looking after those who’ve faced avoidable suffering and damage caused by lack of protection while being in the armed forces. But I’m all too aware that the invisible scars – the mental load – cannot be easily remedied. That’s why Mental Health Awareness Week and similar initiatives are helpful in focusing our minds on the issue and the importance of seeking help and support.