Looking after your mental health
Living with vision loss, or being diagnosed with an eye condition that threatens your vision, can be difficult to come to terms with. This can have a major impact on a person’s mental health and may result in depression.
What is depression?
Depression is more than a low mood or feeling sad. People with depression may have low energy, feel numb, unmotivated, and no longer enjoy things they used to. These feelings can persist for a few weeks or even a few months.
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. A person experiencing depression may no longer have confidence. 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 wellbeing – 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’s important to realise that everyone experiences some or all of these symptoms from time to time. But when symptoms are severe and lasting, it’s essential to get professional help.
If you think you might be depressed, speak to your GP or health professional. There are treatments that can help you feel better. You should also involve your personal and professional carers in discussions where possible, as they can provide valuable support.
MDFA and low vision organisations offer support groups and programs where those living with vision loss can share their experiences. It can help to talk through some of the challenges with people who understand.
By finding out about equipment, services and strategies which can help you to keep doing the things you enjoy, you may regain a sense of control and optimism about the future.
There are organisations set up to help you navigate feelings of depression in a crisis. Beyond Blue has a 24 hour support line on 1300 22 4636. Lifeline’s 24 hour crisis support is available by calling 13 11 14.
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
- social isolation
- a significant change in living arrangements, for example, moving into a nursing home or hospital
- particular anniversaries and the memories they may evoke may also trigger this illness.
Supporting someone with depression and vision loss
If someone you care about could be experiencing depression, the first step to ensure successful treatment is to get 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.
Additionally, there are several other steps you can take to help:
- offer practical support by helping the person to make an appointment and helping them get there
- offer assistance at the person’s home
- encourage the person to continue taking any medication that has been prescribed
- encourage the person to discuss any side effects associated with the medication with their doctor.