Mental health awareness has vastly increased over the last few decades. In the past, people were expected to suffer alone or told their problems weren’t real. But while we’ve come further in treatments and understanding, there’s still a long way to go. A lot of the complexities of mental health issues as they relate to physical ailments are not yet fully understood. One of these areas is the connection between vision and mental health.
Visual acuity versus visual function
It is important to make a distinction between visual acuity and visual function when talking about depression as it relates to vision. Visual acuity is the sharpness or clarity of one’s vision, whereas visual function refers to a person’s ability to perform visual tasks in general. A loss of visual acuity is often easily corrected with glasses or contacts that restore normal visual function. For example, a farsighted individual can still read with a pair of reading glasses, and a nearsighted person can still enjoy movies or television with a pair of prescription contact lenses.
There is no known correlation between lower visual acuity and depression. There is, however, a known correlation between low visual function and depression. This is because a person losing their visual function is likely losing the ability to perform tasks they were once proficient at. This can mean losing the ability to fully enjoy certain entertainment or may even be serious enough to hamper a person’s independence.
Safety is also an issue for those experiencing vision loss.
Vision loss versus congenital blindness
Another distinction to make is between an acquired loss of vision and issues like congenital blindness. Someone who has lived their whole life with low or no vision is less likely to suffer from related mental health issues than someone whose vision loss came on later in life.
Multiple mental health conditions
People with an acquired loss of visual function are at risk for multiple mental health problems including depression, PTSD, anxiety, phobias, and even suicidal thoughts.
Losing vision function can cut people off from their own lives. They may lose friends or find themselves unable to enjoy their favorite activities. People with low vision function often have to adjust to a less independent lifestyle, which can be very hard for some. If vision loss is severe enough, a person may be forced to quit their job, further diminishing their independence.
High risk patients
Patients suffering from depression or other mental health issues are at an increased risk of forgoing treatment. They are less likely to follow up with medical advice or make lifestyle changes that may lessen their vision deterioration. Part of this may come from general depression, and part may come from how difficult it can be to navigate the healthcare system with limited vision.
Loss of visual function is more common in older adults, although children are not immune (read our advice on protecting your child’s vision here). Common causes include diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma and macular degeneration. Trauma, injury and certain cancers can also permanently damage vision.
Recognizing mental health complications
It’s important to be aware of the possibility of mental health complications resulting from vision loss. If someone you know is losing visual function, be on the lookout for signs of depression or other mental health issues.
- Changes in behavior
- Sudden weight loss or weight gain
- Unusual sleep patterns
- Mood changes
The presentation of mental health issues can vary from person to person. It is important to take seriously any behavioral or physiological changes, especially in a person suffering from recent vision loss.
The worst possibility is for someone in this situation to try and deal with it alone. There are resources to help people with vision loss adjust and cope with depression and other mental health issues. An open and honest dialogue with the optometrist is a good first start. Communication between the eye doctor and other health care professionals is crucial to managing comprehensive care.
Yearly eye exams
Annual eye exams can often catch degenerative eye conditions early enough for effective treatments. So it’s important to keep up with them. If visual acuity becomes impaired, prescription glasses or other medical devices can help. It’s important to wear the correct prescription for maximum effect.
Once you have a current prescription, you can shop around online for cheap eyeglasses. 39DollarGlasses stocks all the latest styles and lenses. By buying your glasses online, you’ll save money and a trip to the optometrist’s office.