If you thought an optometrist could only diagnose eye disease and vision problems – think again!
A checkup by your local optometrist could reveal the early warning signs of conditions such as brain tumours, diabetes, high blood pressure and MS, long before you notice any symptoms.
However it now seems that your eyes may hold valuable clues to the state of your mental health.
Recent research has found that decreased electrical activity in the layers of cells lining the back wall of the eye, can be an accurate indication of schizophrenic patients (Demmin et. al, 2018).
Although this type of testing may not be part of routine eye examinations, it does show that the field of optometry may have a vital role to play in mental health diagnosis as well as care.
How Vision Problems Affect Mental Health and Wellbeing
In youngsters, myopia (short-sightedness) is becoming increasingly common. Being unable to clearly see the board at the front of the classroom makes learning that much more difficult, and may lead students to experience feelings of isolation, inadequacy, low self-esteem, and even hopelessness.
At the other end of the spectrum, studies have found that the loss of vision is the most feared result of ageing. It therefore comes as no surprise that psychological distress is a common reaction to impaired insight.
Vision loss – whether through glaucoma, macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, or cataract - affects every aspect of day to day life, from routine chores to leisure time. This can lead to social isolation, disengagement, feelings of loneliness, and anxiety, and an overall decline in mental health.
People waiting for cataract surgery are among those most likely to be impacted, as sadly it can be quite a wait to receive cataract surgery in the public health system.
Alongside this, around 10 to 30% of patients suffering from age-related macular degeneration (AMD) develop depression.
“The eyes are the windows of the soul” as the old saying goes – and if the “soul” refers to your mental health and wellbeing, it seems there is more truth in it than first meets the eye!
While most people would not think of an optometrist as providing mental health care, they can assist patients to deal with vision loss by making appropriate referrals, as well as providing coping tools, solutions and an action plan to help them adjust their routine.
This article was kindly written and contributed by Janet Camilleri