WESTFIELD, N.J. (CBSNewYork) – May is Better Speech and Hearing Month.

While many people do not associate hearing loss with mental illness, experts say not being able to hear properly can be connected to feelings of depression and loneliness.

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As CBS2’s Kiran Dhillon reports, 48-year-old Tom Kersting has struggled with his hearing since he was in elementary school. His condition has progressively gotten worse and five years ago it began impacting the New Jersey psychotherapist at work.

“In my private practice, I was starting to notice more and more of the people that were coming in, I was having difficulty hearing them,” Kersting said.

His wife Krista says the condition also impacted the couple at home.

“Sometimes I’ll find myself shutting down because he’ll be like ‘What?’ And I’ll be like ‘Oh, forget it.’ And that upsets him because then the conversation is completely lost,” Krista Kersting said.

Kersting isn’t the only one. A recent study found 15% of Americans between the ages of 20 and 69 have some trouble with their hearing.

“The louder the sound is, the shorter the amount of time it takes to cause damage,” said Dr. Kristen Handal.

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Handal, an audiologist with HearingLife, says a growing number of young people are also seeing their hearing impacted due increased headphone usage. She adds the pandemic has forced many to realize their hearing might be suffering.

“Everyone is wearing masks and they can’t depend on facial expressions and reading lips,” Handal said. “So I’m seeing a lot of people who are now realizing I really do have a problem.”

Handal says if you are struggling with your hearing, there several things you can do. The first is to schedule an appointment with an audiologist who will complete a hearing test with you, and perhaps recommend a hearing aid. Handal says getting help is imperative because longtime damage can impact memory and brain function. It also takes a toll on a person’s mental health.

“They feel insecure that other people are noticing that they’re having a hard time, and some patients don’t go to parties or restaurants,” Handal said. “Social isolation and depression are very big issues in people with untreated hearing loss.”

As for Tom Kersting, he says his quality of life has greatly increased since he received his own hearing aid three years ago.

“The ability to hear things I couldn’t hear before. Background stuff. Birds chirping… the sound of insects and crickets on a nice summer night. It’s just – it’s powerful. Very powerful,” he said.

The psychotherapist understands there may be a stigma with hearing aids, but he says if you are suffering, focus not on what you’ve lost but instead on what you can gain by getting help.

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Kiran Dhillon contributed to this report. 

CBSNewYork Team