Mental Health Effects of Losing Your Eyesight

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Losing your vision doesn’t just affect your ability to see. As one of the five major senses, problems with your eyesight have ripple effects on other areas of your life and can pose new challenges. Loss of eyesight can be especially difficult for your mental well-being.

This article will explore the physical and mental health effects of vision loss, how to cope with the loss as well as how to avoid vision loss.

Is Vision Impairment Widespread?

The current statistics on those who have serious problems with their eyesight are staggering.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports the following statistic on vision impairment: "Approximately 12 million people 40 years and over in the United States have vision impairment, including 1 million who are blind, 3 million who have vision impairment after correction, and 8 million who have vision impairment due to uncorrected refractive error."

Losing Vision

The CDC also reports that "one in four adults with vision loss reported anxiety or depression." Younger adults who lost their vision had nearly five times the risk of these mental health conditions compared to adults 65 years and older. This could be due to a lack of "effective coping or self-management skills" in the young adults.

The number of those dealing with limited vision is predicted to increase, too, as the world's population ages.

Physical Health Effects of Vision Loss

The most common eye disorders leading to loss of vision or blindness are:

  • Cataracts
  • Diabetic retinopathy
  • Glaucoma
  • Age-related macular degeneration

Vision loss doesn’t just affect your ability to see what's in front of you. For example, it can affect how you walk because you might become fearful about falling or running into a pole.

It affects your ability to read, watch TV, create meals, work and drive. If you participate in hobbies like tennis or golf, your compromised eyesight will likely affect your ability to play these games.

Based on recent research, impaired eyesight has a substantial effect on people’s activities of daily living, too. That includes everyday functions and routine activities like using the toilet, showering, dressing, and eating.

Mental Health Effects of Vision Loss

Vision is an important sensory modality. Mental health problems are an added burden for people already contending with the challenges of losing their vision. Despite the huge numbers of people dealing with serious eye problems like this, screening and treatment are nowhere near the levels they should be. 

As a result, people are having to deal with the byproducts of vision loss. This comes in the form of psychological challenges. In fact, 1 in 4 adults with vision impairment will experience anxiety and depression. Younger people are five times more likely to deal with mental health issues. This is because they're less likely to have developed healthy coping mechanisms.

Loss of sight is associated with the following psychological and psychosocial problems.

Loss of Confidence

Some people experience a gradual loss of vision, while others are born blind or become blind suddenly. This can often be traumatic. And, adjusting to a world that isn't designed for visually impaired people impacts a person's confidence.

They might also feel embarrassment and shame about not being able to do things others can do. Rather than dealing with the shame, they avoid thinking about the problem or start to isolate themselves from others.

Also, many with vision loss might feel like a burden to family and friends who may have to help them with daily tasks. The loss of independence can be disappointing to many.

Loneliness

Vision impairment is often irreversible so it’s important to address how it can result in loneliness.

Losing your vision can adversely affect interpersonal interactions and social engagement. For instance, someone dealing with vision loss might isolate themselves, and attend fewer in-person meetings and get-togethers because of their frustrations and challenges in dealing with vision loss.

In a recent study,scientists examined how loneliness impacts people with vision impairment. When looking at those with sight impairment, loneliness was common. The rates of loneliness of those with vision impairment were consistently higher across various age groups compared to the general population. 

Depression

It’s understandable that people experiencing vision loss will get mildly or clinically depressed. One commentary in an issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Ophthalmology says there’s robust evidence of a link between vision loss and depression.

Researchers say, “Those with vision loss are 2 to 3 times more likely to be depressed than the general population.”

Depression is a far-from-uncommon risk for people who have lost their vision from age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

One study, funded by the National Eye Institute (NEI), brought together eye care and mental health professionals. Results of this study showed that a multi-disciplinary treatment program that included input from primary eye care, psychiatry, psychology, and rehabilitation specialists held promise.

One aspect of the integrated intervention was having people with vision loss focus and re-engage in activities they liked. This kind of behavior activation that helps people achieve goals reduced the risk of depression by 50% compared to the control treatment.

Frustration

Those with vision loss may feel frustrated by accessibility issues. For example, websites may not offer functions that allow people with vision impairment to enjoy web content (e.g., there are no text-to-speech options). This can lead to them feeling like they're missing out on content they'd like to enjoy.

How to Cope With Vision Loss

People will react differently to vision loss, but it’s important to acknowledge and grieve the loss of your vision. Being aware of how you feel and the reality of the situation you are in is important.

Here are some ways that you can cope with vision loss:

  • Speak with a therapist: If you're finding it difficult to cope with your vision loss, speaking to a therapist who has experience in treating individuals with chronic health issues may be helpful. They'll be able to validate your experience and help you discover ways to manage any negative feelings you may have. Furthermore, therapists can offer a variety of approaches and work with medical professionals to best address your individual needs.
  • Consider using devices: If you have some sight, you can consider telescopic glasses and reading prisms. Devices can include other aids like large print publications, text-to-speech computer software programs, and Braille readers.
  • Take the time to grieve: Losing your eyesight can feel devastating, so it's important that you take the time to feel all of your emotions in a healthy way.
  • Join a support group: It may help to consider joining a support group with others who have vision loss so that you can be around others who truly understand how you feel.
  • Engage in activities: You can ask someone to read to you, listen to the radio, and play with animals that bring you comfort like dogs or cats.
  • Get a service dog: You can apply for a service animal to help you with daily activities. Visit Americans with Disabilities.gov for more information.
  • Take adjustment classes: Adjustment classes can help you learn how to carry out daily tasks and acclimate to a different lifestyle.

A Word From Verywell

Vision loss can be painful to deal with, so it's important to prioritize your mental health so you can learn how to cope with losing your eyesight. Speaking to a mental health counselor can help you navigate complex emotions while giving you resources and tools to gain back a sense of independence.

14 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  3. Cleveland Clinic. Common Eye Disorders and Vision Problems.

  4. Kempen GI, Ballemans J, Ranchor AV, van Rens GH, Zijlstra GA. The impact of low vision on activities of daily living, symptoms of depression, feelings of anxiety and social support in community-living older adults seeking vision rehabilitation services [published correction appears in Qual Life Res. 2012 Oct;21(8):1413]. Qual Life Res. 2012;21(8):1405-1411. doi:10.1007/s11136-011-0061-y

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  7. Brunes A, B Hansen M, Heir T. Loneliness among adults with visual impairment: prevalence, associated factors, and relationship to life satisfactionHealth Qual Life Outcomes. 2019;17(1):24. Published 2019 Feb 1. doi:10.1186/s12955-019-1096-y

  8. Morse AR. Addressing the Maze of Vision Loss and DepressionJAMA Ophthalmol. 2019;137(7):832–833. doi:10.1001/jamaophthalmol.2019.1234

  9. Rovner BW, Casten RJ, Hegel MT, et al. Low vision depression prevention trial in age-related macular degeneration: a randomized clinical trialOphthalmology. 2014;121(11):2204-2211. doi:10.1016/j.ophtha.2014.05.002

  10. American Foundation for the Blind. AFB Accessibility Resources.

  11. Cleveland Clinic. Vision Loss: Coping.

  12. GoldenCarers. 20 Activities for the Visually-Impaired.

  13. ADA.gov. Service Animals.

  14. Cleveland Clinic. Vision Loss: Coping.

By Barbara Field
Barbara is writer and speak who is passionate about mental health, overall wellness, and women's issues.