Can vision problems affect mental health?
Vision loss not only affects your visual system but can also affect your mental health. The consequences of vision loss can cause anxiety which can lead to depression and feeling isolated socially. A study published on Medical press by Lee-Anne Donegan at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine stated that ‘people suffering from vision loss are twice as likely to suffer from depression as the general population.’
Vision loss is often progressive and irreversible. It can have huge consequences on our everyday life and effects most daily activities such as recognising people’s faces, reading, watching TV, and cooking. As well as hindering our ability to engage in everyday activities, vision loss can cause you to feel reliant on those around you to do certain tasks, making you feel less independent and causing your confidence and self-worth to dwindle.
Some people who have lost a significant amount of their sight can experience visual hallucinations where they start to see things that aren’t there. This condition is known as Charles Bonnet Syndrome (CBS). The hallucinations caused by CBS are due to sight loss only and aren’t a sign that you have a mental health problem, CBS can’t affect your mental health.
Vision loss and mental health
Blindness or vision loss can also be a primary or secondary side effect of psychiatric treatment. Patients who have been prescribed typical antipsychotics and some serotonin reuptake inhibitors for depression and anxiety may experience a dilation of the pupil (mydriasis). This can lead to vision impairment. Blurred vision can be a result of tricyclic antidepressants and some seizure drugs have been suspected to cause myopia and glaucoma. Diabetes (which, if not treated, can lead to vision loss) can also be caused by antipsychotics, as can impaired colour perception.
Can stress impact vision?
According to an article from NVISION, ‘researchers have found that mental stress can lead to symptoms of vision loss and vice versa.’ When we are stressed, our pupils dilate to enhance vision. If we are feeling stressed constantly, our pupils will stay dilated, and this can lead to a range of vision problems including:
- Eye strain
- Dry eye
- Eye twitching in one or both eyes
- Light sensitivity
- Eye floaters
- Mild Blurry vision
Stress and anxiety also lead to increased levels of adrenaline and cortisol. When too much cortisol is released, it can cause problems with both the brain and the eyes as the blood flow between the eyes and the brain is disrupted, leading to vision problems. When there is too much adrenaline in the body, pressure can build up behind the eye causing blurred or tunnel vision.
Relaxation and meditation are encouraged to manage stress levels and by engaging in these practices, you can prevent further eye problems and health issues such as headaches and migraines.
How do you know if you are experiencing depression?
It’s normal to have days when we feel low; however, it’s important to recognise when these feelings become consistent, lasting more than two weeks and interrupting everyday life. You may be depressed if you are experiencing the following symptoms:
- Loss of interest in life
- Lack of pleasure in doing things you used to enjoy
- Low self-worth
- Feeling hopeless
- Lack of energy
- Poor sleep
- Increased or decreased appetite
- Aches and pains that don’t go away with treatment
Coping mechanisms for depression
Seeking help and developing coping mechanisms for depression can be difficult at the beginning. It's common for people to be in denial about the way they are feeling or to not know where to start in terms of seeking help and establishing coping mechanisms. Below are some helpful strategies for tackling anxiety and depression.
- Get regular exercise - whether that's taking a walk in your local park or participating in a spin class, exercise has been proven to release endorphins and ease symptoms of depression and anxiety.
- Follow a healthy diet - eating lots of fruit and vegetables and limiting ultra-processed foods can also have a positive effect on your mental health.
- Get plenty of sleep - aim to get between seven to nine hours of sleep each night as this can be crucial for your brain and overall health.
- Take time to relax - if you're struggling to relax try practicing meditation to help calm your mind.
- Practice mindfulness - mindfulness can help you to become more present as well as pay more attention to your feelings, improving your mental health.
- Learn new ways to go about daily activities - finding a vision rehabilitation specialist who can help you learn new ways of doing the things you enjoy can help tremendously with your wellbeing. It can help you feel more able to participate in everyday activities.
- Find a support group - low vision support groups can make visually impaired people feel less isolated. These support groups offer interactions with other people who also have poor vision, and this can help to alleviate depression.