News The African Way

Visually Impaired Suffer Mental Health Problems About Four Times Higher Than Others – Study

More Research Needed on Relationship Between Mental Health and Vision Impairment

By Joseph Edegbo

It is estimated that blind people aged 50 years and above are four times likely to experience anxiety and / or depression than those with no vision impairment.

World Health Organisation says there are at least 2.2 billion with visual impairment globally.

A Research by international development organisation Sightsavers, University of Ilorin, and the Kogi State Ministry of Health, in Nigeria, reveals the links between vision impairment and poor mental health.

The study was published in the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene’s (RSTMH) International Health Journal.

According to the study, individuals with severe vision impairment are almost three times likely, and those with moderate visual impairment twice likely to report having mental health issues.

“This study’s main finding is consistent with evidence from high-income country settings that suggests vision impairment contributes to the burden of mental illness.” The study states

The research which was conducted in Nigeria may be a pointer on the connections between eye health and mental health, particularly in low- to middle-income countries, where impacts of vision loss are exacerbated by poverty and difficulties accessing health services.

The Study therefore calls for more research on the relationship between mental health and vision impairment, so that they could be effectively addressed through appropriate strategies incorporated during design of eye health programmes.

The study also notes that the relationship between mental health and vision impairment varies by age and gender.

It says, the probability of self-reported symptoms of anxiety and / or depression is estimated to be more than four times higher among men with severe visual impairment or blindness and more likely as men age, compared to women with the same levels of vision loss.

According to it, social and cultural norms, differences in gender roles and coping styles, the study emphasized, may account for the gender difference; men are often more economically active than women in Nigeria and may feel greater impact from visual impairment.

Commenting on the project, Senior Programme Manager – Eye Health at Sightsavers, Selben Penzin says “the research highlights that there’s a substantial mental health burden among people with vision impairment and that eye health shouldn’t be considered in a silo; vision plays a critical role in overall health and wellbeing.

“It’s important for governments and organisations to be aware that people with vision impairments may be more likely to have additional mental health needs and design health services to be sensitive to this. Improving vision through targeted policies and integration of inclusive eye health services into national health and education systems will improve independence, productivity, and wellbeing.

“Findings also show the need for further research to understand the knock-on effects of sight loss on mental health, and collaboration between governments and organisations across the world to address the issues.”

Previous studies suggest factors contributing to the association between vision impairment and poor mental health include the impact vision loss could have on independence, isolation, poverty and employment opportunities.

The eye health issue of RSTMH’s International Health Journal, which this study features in, was published to highlight the important role international development organisations have, in generating evidence to address the root causes of eye health, supporting governments to integrate eye health into national health, and advancing accessible eye care for everyone.

The study which was supported by the UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office, used a statistical model, vision impairment assessment data and Washington Group anxiety and depression-related questions, to estimate association between vision impairment and self-reported anxiety and / or depression of nearly 4,000 adults in Kogi State, central Nigeria.

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