The 14-20th May is Mental Health Awareness Week. Two thirds of us experience some mental health problems in our lifetimes, and this week is to help raise awareness about it. Many people who are visually impaired experience mental health problems, and people with sight loss are 13.5% more likely to become depressed. Unfortunately, there is not always the support that people would like available. The RNIB carried out a survey and found that 79% of people, when losing their sight, want someone to talk to about it and sadly only 19% of people are able to access that.
However, the good news is that there is an RNIB sight loss counselling team available, with expertise of counselling and the different ways people can lose their sight. They offer 8-10 sessions for people who have either lost their sight or for others in the family close to someone with sight loss, which can be easier than more general counselling as you can talk to someone who understands sight loss. Most people who use this service come into the RNIB at a critical point for them for counselling, which isn’t necessarily at the point of losing their sight. For example, it can be triggered by something other than sight loss, such as realising that you won’t be able to drive as a teenager or no longer being able to find your way around a workplace. It is normal to experience feelings similar to bereavement when coming to terms with sight loss, which the RNIB has a helpful article on here.
For children with vision loss, there is a significant risk of mental health problems. A study carried out by the RLSB (Royal London Society for Blind People), now RSBC, looking at data from 13000 11-year-old children suggests that over 20% of visually impaired children have significant mental health problems. This compares with just 7% of those with normal vision. The figure rises to 30% in those visually impaired children with additional disabilities or special educational needs.
Dr John Harris, head of research at RLSB, says “Our research highlights the importance of rapid post-diagnosis support for these vulnerable children and their parents. Without early and continued support for the family, emotional and behavioural problems that occur in childhood are likely to persist and affect every aspect of the child’s life as they grow older.” Read Mental Health Today's story on this here.
It is important for health professionals to not only think about a child’s physical well-being but also their mental wellbeing. This holistic approach is something that is important for people of all ages, as demonstrated in the report from the suicide of Nina Davis in August 2017. The findings of the investigation showed there was no advice or support sourced from any blind service, so help to formulate a care plan for Nina was lacking. Also, not enough consideration was given to Nina’s disability and the impact it was having on her. Surprisingly, there is not an automatic psychological referral for people when they first develop sight loss, despite this being a major sensory impairment affecting every part of one's life.