Most people can sympathize deeply with patients who have visible illnesses, injuries and chronic conditions. They spot the outward signs — casts, canes, injections, medications — and they are quick to offer their love and support.
But the same can’t always be said when you are suffering with a “hidden” disease like tinnitus. Some people may argue there’s nothing really wrong with you — after all, you’re not sick or in physical pain. Others may even say you are making up your condition. And while your loved ones can, on some level, understand the symptoms of tinnitus, they will never fully grasp the mental and emotional toll of the condition.
Because of this, many patients don’t talk about their condition — and find living with tinnitus to be a profoundly lonely and isolating experience.
But just because you alone can hear the sound in your head doesn’t mean you’re actually alone. With over 50 million Americans struggling regularly with tinnitus, you’re part of one of the biggest clubs in the country. And while this club might not be worth the price of membership, it still means you have many, many resources available to you for support.
Why is it Important for Tinnitus Patients to Have Social Support?
Reaching out to others—especially those who know what you are going through—can profoundly impact your ability to cope and heal. Finding people to talk to throughout your tinnitus journey can help you see you are not alone.
You may learn valuable tips and tricks for managing your condition, or you may be able to offer advice that helps someone else cope. You can receive pats on the back on the days you’re doing well, and encouragement on the days you’re not. And, you can feel confident out in the “real world,” knowing you have a safety net you can always turn to when you need it.
But perhaps the most important reason for tinnitus sufferers to find social support? Researchers today are learning more than ever about the dangerous health risks associated with loneliness.
Many doctors and researchers now say that loneliness should be labeled a chronic health condition, and, as baby boomers age, an impending public health crisis—with tinnitus patients at particular risk because they tend to isolate themselves from social situations.
Studies show that loneliness can be more damaging to our health than obesity or even smoking. Because loneliness can spike levels of stress hormones and inflammation in your body, it can worsen your symptoms of tinnitus—as well as lead to diabetes, hypertension, and an early death.
Where Can Tinnitus Patients Find Support?
If you’re ready to make connections and build the support system you need, here’s where to start.
- Social media groups: Online communities like the Stop The Ringing Facebook page are an excellent way for tinnitus sufferers to meet and make friends with other patients, participate in conversations about tinnitus-related topics and stay up to date on new scientific developments and treatment options. Because these groups are online, they offer 24/7 support while still helping you maintain some anonymity.
- A formal support group: Formal support groups can meet either in person or online, and often offer more structured support to patients looking to connect, socialize and learn more about their condition. You can find them by doing an internet search for tinnitus support groups near you. Your doctor, insurance provider or employer may offer medical concierge services than can help with your search. If possible, look for groups that are led by physicians, audiologists or licensed therapists.
- The Help Network: The Help Network, maintained by the American Tinnitus Association, is made up of tinnitus patients who volunteer their time to offer non-medical support over phone or email to other people suffering from the condition. They can provide you with general advice, tip for managing your symptoms, or just a sympathetic ear. You’ll find the list here.
- A good therapist: A skilled talk therapist can do wonders for the stress of tinnitus—and they can teach you coping mechanisms that may help you lessen or alleviate your symptoms. There are two important things to consider when choosing your therapist: personal chemistry, and expertise. You want a therapist you can connect with and trust. Don’t hesitate to ask to speak to a few therapists on the phone or to schedule some introductory visits until you find the one that fits you best. You also want a qualified psychologist, therapist, or social worker who has experience dealing with your concerns. During your introductory discussions, ask what experience your therapist has in treating people struggling with chronic conditions like tinnitus.
- Your friends and family: In the end, nobody wants to see you happy, healthy and whole more than the people who love you most. Though it may seem embarrassing at first, talk to them about your tinnitus—not just the symptoms, but how the condition makes you feel, and how they can offer you the support you need when you need it most. If you are having trouble initiating these conversations or finding the right words to voice your thoughts, your therapist can offer ideas to get you started.