Vision impairment can significantly affect the mental health and overall quality of life in adults and children. As this issue is becoming increasingly recognized, new resources are being developed to help patients and their families combat these problems and improve their quality of life on a daily basis.
According to Julie Grutzmacher, vision plays an essential role in making interpersonal connections, engaging in hobbies, job roles, independent living, and staying physically in shape. When the ability to see is taken away, these functions become increasingly more complex, leading to a decline in one’s mental health. It can lead to what is known as “identity paralysis,” a psychological struggle patients face when, “who they thought they were,” is now called into question.
Grtuzmacher also points out the effects of vision impairment on kids and teens and its ability to impact relationship-building, academic achievement, and athletic performance. Not only this, but kids may struggle to be accepted socially when they use devices to treat their eyesight, such as glasses. Older adults, on the other hand, face increased risks of falls and injuries, as well as mental health issues like depression and anxiety. This distress caused by a lack of vision capabilities can eventually lead to isolation, lack of physical activity, and chronic illness.
Resolving these issues has been a long-time goal of Prevent Blindness, a national organization focused on eye health and blindness prevention. In the past year, Prevent Blindness brought together professionals and patients struggling with vision loss to aid in developing solutions and programs that offer support and address the daily problems of those with blindness and vision impairment. In July, the Prevent Blindness program hosted their annual Focus on Eye Health Summit, where an entire day was dedicated to the topics discussed in the Vision Loss and Mental Health issue brief published earlier that summer.
Vision impairment and childhood development
In a study conducted by Orbis International, researchers found that vision impairment can affect a child’s physical and emotional development, leading to a decline in quality of life. The study emphasized the importance of early detection and intervention of vision loss for kids and the crucial roles that advocacy and resources play in children’s overall well-being.
As discussed earlier, vision loss in children can lead to heightened levels of anxiety and depression, especially in environments where kids are burdened with the pressure of academic success. In situations like these, simple solutions cannot be overlooked. Professor Nathan Congdon of Orbis International states, “It’s really a very encouraging finding: sometimes inexpensive, simple things, like giving glasses to a child, can help a lot, even with complicated problems.”
Kelly Scherer, OD and director of clinical services at The Chicago Lighthouse, added to this claim by noting that kids and adults with vision impairment develop depression and anxiety at a much higher rate than those without vision loss. Like Julie Grutzmacher, Scherer pointed out that children’s desire for social acceptance often outweighs their interest in treatment devices and services. Scherer emphasizes to her patients the importance of self-advocacy and finding community in a society that is unfamiliar with the truly devastating effects of vision loss.
Optometrists are critical in screening for mental health issues in patients with vision loss and blindness. Screening tools like PHQ-9 make the process simple for doctors and their patients and can be very helpful in understanding the different experiences of patients with vision loss. Scherer also encourages professionals to create screening protocols for their practices for all patients reporting a loss of vision. These protocols, along with offering psychological support, are a crucial step in loosening the grip of mental health issues for patients with vision impairment.
If any of your patients are suffering from mental health issues due to vision loss, there are plenty of ways to provide them the support they need. Organizations like the ASPECT Patient Engagement Program and Living Well With Low Vision work to help those with vision impairment get the support and education they need to live their life to the fullest while also providing a place for patients to seek community.