New study finds people left to cope alone with emotional impact of sight loss

Press Release | 22/12/2019

The mental health problems that arise from sight loss are too often sidelined, leaving people to cope with depression and anxiety on their own according to a major new study published today. Sight loss can have a significant emotional and psychological impact on people’s lives, with fear, isolation, loss of self-esteem and depression having an impact. 

Yet according to a new study by Royal Blind, Scottish War Blinded and the Mental Health Foundation Scotland, emotional support is rarely offered on diagnosis by statutory health services, leaving many people with sight loss to cope on their own. Picture of the front cover of the Emotional Support for Sight Loss report

Nearly 400 people with sight loss took part in the research which found that 85 per cent of those who took part had experienced challenges to their mental health as a result of their visual impairment. However, two thirds (63 per cent) indicated they had not been offered mental health support such as social prescribing, counselling or cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) to help them manage their long-term condition. 

Royal Blind and Scottish War Blinded, who are sister charities, have joined forces with the Mental Health Foundation Scotland to publish the report “Emotional Support for Sight Loss.”  The charities have made a number of recommendations, including increasing the awareness of the mental health needs of people with sight loss in health and social care services and better signposting to support. 

Commenting on the publication of the report, Mark O’Donnell, Chief Executive of Royal Blind and Scottish War Blinded, said:  

“A diagnosis of a sight loss condition is a life-changing event, and for people who are born with visual impairment there can be a range of emotional impacts as they face barriers and stigma which still exist in our society.  

“Our research identifies a range of mental health challenges as a result of sight loss.  These include young people requiring counselling to help them manage anxiety linked to their visual impairment, people needing emotional support when their vision deteriorates further and veterans with sight loss experiencing chronic mental health challenges. The findings in the report also make it clear there isn’t enough awareness of the emotional impact of sight loss, or enough support for people with visual impairment for their mental wellbeing, and this needs to change.”  

Lee Knifton, Director, Mental Health Foundation Scotland, said: “Visual impairment is not just a physical condition, it can have a profound psychological impact and people should expect to receive emotional support when they need it. 

"People shouldn’t be left to cope with emotional distress on their own. Sight loss affects people in different ways – that’s why person-centred support is so important. One to one counselling, social prescribing and peer support groups can help people overcome their fears and anxieties and help them feel more in control of their lives. 

"If support is offered effectively at an early stage it can prevent anxiety and depression developing into severe, clinical conditions. That’s why today we’re calling for tailored, person-centred support to be offered upon diagnosis of sight loss and at different stages of a person’s support plan.” 

Dr Mhairi Thurston, Programme Leader for MSc Counselling at Abertay University said:

"I am delighted Royal Blind and Scottish War Blinded have conducted this valuable piece of research. It is clear that people with sight loss are still not getting the psychological support they so need and deserve.

“People with sight loss need different types of support at different points in their sight loss journey. I think there is still some work to be done around normalising psychological support in all its forms, especially for the older generation, who can sometimes view asking for help with mental health as a sign of weakness. I would love to see specialist counselling services become routinely available for all visually impaired people. Effective counselling can radically change lives for the better.”

You can find out more about the research at: 

https://www.royalblind.org/royal-blind/campaigns/our-campaigns/emotional-support-for-sight-loss