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Depression is an important consideration in eye care

Published: 07.04.2017

On World Health Day, with this year’s theme  – depression, Julian Eaton, CBM‘s Mental Health Advisor writes about how loss of vision can lead to depression, requiring support and care. 

Doctor talking to a patient; WHO World Health Day Poster

Doctor talking to a patient; cropped image from the WHO’s “Depression: Let’s Talk” campaign to mark World Health Day 2017

This year, World Health Day focuses on the extremely common, but often under-recognised issue of mental ill health, in particular depression. Many people who work in the field of eye care will have seen people who have reacted badly to the experience of losing vision, and recognise that the emotional consequences can often make the situation significantly worse.  It is clear that the way a person responds to acquiring a physical or sensory impairment has a major impact on their subsequent rehabilitation and attitude towards their future, impacting their quality of life. In fact, there is evidence to show that between 25% and 40% of people with significant eye pathology will be affected by depression, with rates increasing as severity of eye disease increases.[1]

In many ways, being sad or distressed by the loss of vision is a natural reaction to having a new disability. However, when low mood, deliberate isolation, poor appetite and loss of hope, start to take over someone’s life, it is important to recognise that there is a problem that needs to be addressed. All these are symptoms of depression, and can make the process of rehabilitation and social engagement much harder, but with the right support, a person can be helped , and be ready to move forward in life.

The good news is that mental health problems can be overcome. Eye care, Neglected Tropical Diseases–especially Trachoma and River Blindness–and other services should ensure that staff are aware of this issue which is so common among people using health and social services, and that they are equipped to respond so as to promote recovery just as with the physical part of our lives.

The case studies by Dr Wabulembo highlights typical examples from our partners in Papua New Guinea of how people using eye care services might have a significant emotional component to their care. At present, it is often a challenge to find the support needed, but once these needs are recognised, it is possible to add this element to services. However, the first step is to raise awareness among staff, communities and persons with disabilities so that people feel free to discuss these issues. For World Health Day, the WHO has produced a range of resources called ‘Let’s Talk’, aimed at all parts of the world. #LetsTalk #depression #mentalhealth

Also read Geoffrey Wabulembo’s experiences in the field with patients dealing with vision loss and visual impairment.

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