Studies have shown that people with significant vision loss experience depression at the same rate as people with cancer and heart disease.
People can experience feelings of disbelief, apprehension and even depression when diagnosed with low vision. What may seem an insurmountable difficulty for someone newly experiencing vision loss can become just another element of daily life with some slight adjustments to everyday activities.
Depression is more than just a low mood, it is a serious illness that many adults and young people live with every year. People with depression can find it hard to function every day. It can have serious effects on physical and mental health. Understanding this is essential because early detection is important.
Depression is treatable and effective treatments are available. But early detection is important.
A person may be depressed, if for more than two weeks they have:
- Felt sad, down or miserable most of the time; or
- They’ve lost interest or pleasure in most of their usual activities; and
- They have experienced symptoms in three or more of the following areas: their behaviours; feelings; thoughts or physical wellbeing.
Impact of depression
- A person who is feeling depressed may stop going out and withdraw from close family and friends.
- They may no longer want to do things they enjoy. Perhaps they no longer get things done at work because they can’t concentrate. Or they rely on alcohol and sedatives to get them through.
- A person who is depressed may experience a shift in their feelings, they may feel overwhelmed, guilty, irritable or frustrated. They may no longer have confidence, and they may feel unhappy, indecisive, disappointed, miserable or sad.
- A person with depression may find unwelcome and unhelpful thoughts crossing their mind. They may find themselves thinking: “I’m a failure.” “Nothing good ever happens to me.” “Life’s not worth living.” “It’s my fault.” “I’m worthless.”
- And, they may find they lose their sense of physical well being – they’ll feel tired all the time; or sick and run down.
- People with depression may also experience headaches and muscle pains, a churning gut or sleep problems. They may lose or change their appetite and experience significant weight loss or gain.
It is important to realise that everyone experiences some or all of these symptoms from time to time, but when symptoms are severe and lasting, it is essential to get professional help.
Depression and older people
While depression is not a normal part of ageing, there are certain factors that make older people more at risk of depression.
- An increase in physical health problems or chronic pain;
- The loss of relationships, independence, work and income, self-worth, mobility and flexibility; or
- Social isolation
- A significant change in living arrangements. For example, if a person moves from an independent care setting into a nursing home or hospital can put older people at risk of depression.
- Particular anniversaries and the memories they may evoke may also trigger this illness.
Different types of depression require different types of treatment. For example, physical exercise can prevent and treat mild depression. However, for more severe depression, psychological treatment and drug treatments may be necessary. Community support can also play an important role in treating the illness.
"I was diagnosed at an early age with Stargardt’s disease. Losing your vision is devastating, but living with low vision doesn’t need to be. Macular Disease Foundation Australia and other community agencies can help you find the tools you need to survive and thrive." Anton.
Supporting someone with depression
If someone you care about could be experiencing depression, the first step to ensure successful treatment is to obtain an appropriate assessment by a GP or a health professional.
Both personal and professional carers are an invaluable source of information about personality or cognitive changes in a person. They should be included in discussions where possible.
Talk to a GP, a mental health service or, in an emergency, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 for assistance.
Additionally, there are several other steps you can take to help:
- Offer practical support by assisting the person to make an appointment with their GP or counsellor then provide or arrange transport
- Offer assistance at the person’s home
- If the person has been prescribed antidepressant medication, encourage them to continue taking it as directed
- Assist them to discuss the treatment with their doctor, especially if they suffer side effects