“The eyes are a window to the soul” is a saying without a clear origin: people have attributed it to Da Vinci, Shakespeare, and even the bible. It should not be surprising then that a myriad of medical conditions can affect the eye, leading to vision loss. While issues with the eye can lead to problems with one’s sight, vision loss can also be detrimental to one's mental health as well.
Approximately 1 in 4 adults with vision loss have reported some sort of anxiety or depression. Interestingly, younger adults with vision loss are five times more likely to have a mental health condition than adults 65 and older. This increased risk could be due to a lack of effective coping skills, or other barriers to accessibility that they have not learned how to navigate yet. Diabetic retinopathy is one of the leading causes of vision loss in the US. In an extensive study of the prevalence of mental health issues in those with diabetic retinopathy 21.5% of people with diabetic retinopathy had an anxiety diagnosis compared to 18.7% of those that didn't have the condition. The difference was even greater for depression diagnosis: 33% of people with diabetic retinopathy had a depression diagnosis compared to 20.4% in those without.
Image 1: A patient's retina with diabetic retinopathy.
Moreover these mental health issues can lead to impairments in functioning. Particularly in patients with diabetic retinopathy, these impairments include family functioning and reduced compliance with medications. Ultimately these impairments lead to poorer control of a patient's diabetes and the worsening of diabetic retinopathy symptoms. This vicious cycle of vision loss and mental health issues can trap patients. More care needs to be taken to adequately address mental health disparities associated with certain medical conditions. The CDC recommends that people struggling with vision loss should be regularly screened for depression and anxiety.
Image 2: An example of a simple screener for depression and anxiety.
The CDC also provides some helpful tips to those at risk of vision loss and/or the mental issues that could accompany it. Adding movement to your day, managing your diet, and not smoking are all preventative measures that people can take to protect their eye and mental health.