How Vision Loss Affects Mental Health
Loss of vision can be caused by numerous factors. Glaucoma, which is known as high intra-ocular (eye) pressure, Ocular Inflammatory Diseases, of which there are over 100 types, Macular degeneration, or injury are only a few causes of Vision Impairment and Blindness. There are side effects of the medications taken by vision patients who are fighting to save their vision, but there are side effects to the vision loss itself.
Vision loss can be very slow and insidious, sneaking up on the patient so gradually that they never know it is happening until it is too late. Once vision is lost, it cannot be restored. Vision loss can be sudden. Either way, vision loss is emotionally devastating to the patient with vision loss. Being unable to do simple things that were once a way of life, such as cooking, cleaning, driving, and even shaving, cause a person to be dependent on others for simple things. This is devastating to a person’s self-esteem. Forced dependence on others where before the patient was independent is a bitter pill for them to swallow. Social isolation often sets in, because social phobia often sets in due to vision loss. Inability to see what is happening in their environment, coupled with being unable to see visual social cues causes the patient to want to withdraw into themselves and away from society. Loss of friends and even family members because these people are uncomfortable with illness or afraid of offending the patient causes further isolation. Inability to see themselves in a mirror, and thus not knowing what they look like, makes the low-vision patient uncomfortable in social settings, also, because appearance, while not everything, is important in society. Inability to see their appearance makes the low-vision patient unsure of their appearance, and whether or not they are appropriately dressed.
Those who are close to the vision impaired or blind patient will notice anger, frustration, sadness, depression and even hostility. Some sighted people who are close to the patient will often suggest an anti-depressant. These have side effects as well, and may not help the low-vision or blind patient. The depression brought on by loss of sight is not caused by a chemical imbalance, after all. It is caused by grieving over the loss of a very important sense, and the loss of the life they once lived. Grief counseling, mental health therapy, and the support of others who are going through a similar experience would be far more appropriate than just giving the patient a bottle of pills and sending them home. Those little yellow, blue, pink, or green pills will not solve the root of the problem, and they do not help the patient to accept their life the way it is now. Anti-depressant medications will not bring back vision, and the numbing of feelings they cause will not help the patient cope with his or her disease.
Coping with the seemingly insurmountable changes caused by vision loss is not easy. The low-vision patient needs to be allowed to grieve for the loss of such an important sense, as well as the loss of the life they once lived. The low-vision patient cannot simply ‘get over it’. The grieving process takes longer for some than others, and if vision loss occurs over time, then that grieving process will take even longer, cropping up and starting over with each skill lost. Re-training or rehabilitative training will help, if it is done properly by a trainer who doesn’t behave as if they feel sympathy for the patient or they believe they are better than the patient, and then dumb everything down for them. No grown, lucid adult wishes to be spoken to as if their mind stopped working at the same time as their eyes. No grown, lucid adult wants to be spoken to very preciously, as if they were a child. This only furthers the depression and grief caused by visual loss. This behavior makes the low-vision or blind patient feel as if others do not believe they are capable, valuable human beings. Just the knowing or the feeling that the people close to them do not think them capable and valuable because vision loss has caused the loss of simple skills, like mobility or household chores, makes the vision-impaired or blind patient grieve and feel depression and rage even more.
Those patients who are losing or have lost their vision need support. These patients need to know they are still valued by friends and family, and they need the help and support of others who have similar issues. There is no magic pill which will allow these patients to ‘get over it’. There are no magic words that take the hurt of losing their vision and their former life away. Being depressed already and watching vision fade away can magnify other life events. If an attack by another person caused the vision loss, or happened after the fact, it feels exponentially worse psychologically to the patient. Normal life events, such as reaching menopause, children’s birthdays or sporting events, can be painful for the low-vision or blind patient. In addition to feeling the normal effects of these things, the patient may feel sad or even guilty because they cannot see the things they most want to see. Their children’s faces as they grow, their spouse’s face, or their child’s first goal or home run are important things in life that the patient wants to see again, but they know they never will. This is quite a painful experience, and adds another layer to their depression and grief.
Vision loss affects much more than the eyes and it affects more people than the low-vision or blind patient. Friends, family members, the patient’s doctors, and their teachers or professors are all affected by vision loss. The patient knows this, and the fact that their problem has become everyone else’s problem adds to the depression and grief. Vision loss is never a simple issue for anyone. It affects the patient’s self-esteem, how, when and if they will socialize with others, their skills in simple tasks others take for granted, and often leaves them feeling helpless, where before they were quite capable. It affects the patient’s mental health by forcing them through a grieving process over and over and adding depression to the mix. Anti-depressants often do not help, but they are foisted on the patient, rather than helping them find the support and guidance they need. There are better and more effective ways to treat the visually-impaired patient’s depression and help them through their grief than mere medication. If family members, caregivers and friends were given counseling alongside the patient, or at least some instructions when they are informed of the patient’s vision loss, perhaps it would be a bit less difficult for the patient to explain how they feel and why.