The Connection Between Mental Health and Vision Health

May is mental health awareness month. To help shed light on mental health issues, we are going to look at the correlation between mental health and vision health. Recent studies have shown that while it is more common to suffer from mental health issues when diagnosed with vision problems, it is also possible to develop vision problems as a result of mental health struggles. 

Visual impairments can be very hard to navigate. So much of everything we do during the course of the day requires our eyesight.  A recent study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that “1 in 4 adults with vision loss report experiencing anxiety or depression”1. The same study also found that those with visual problems who were of a younger age were five times more likely to develop mental health problems.  

In addition, there are certain visual impairments that are more commonly associated with mental health problems such as glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, retinitis pigmentosa, and age-related macular degeneration1. Three of these conditions (age-related macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, and glaucoma) are the most common eye conditions in the United States. However, with the proper treatment plan of the eye condition, it is possible that mental health issues associated with these conditions can improve. 

Conversely, it has also been found that those with mental health problems can also develop vision problems. It has been found that about 1 in 4 people suffer from some type of mental illness. Some of the most common mental health issues—including bipolar disorder, depression, stress/anxiety, and schizophrenia—have all been linked to visual impairments. More specifically, people who suffer from bipolar disorder or schizophrenia are at an increased risk of developing glaucoma. Those who suffer from depression are more likely to develop glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration, and dry eye disease. Even the most common mental health struggles such as stress and anxiety can be linked to vision-related problems1. And while it is still hard to determine what directly triggers eye conditions to develop as a result of mental illness, there is research to support that stress can be a major trigger and mental and vision health are connected neurologically. 

Both mental and vision health related issues can be life changing and overwhelming, but there are ways you can try to prevent these health conditions from taking over your life. 

Here are some tips for how to prevent both vision and mental health issues: 

  • Eat Healthy: Being cautious about what you eat and maintaining a healthy diet can decrease your chances of getting diabetes, a condition known to cause vision problems. 
  • Exercise: Incorporating physical activity into your lifestyle can not only help you stay healthy physically, but exercising is also linked to reduced stress and improved mood management. 
  • Consult Your Doctor About Your Family History: It is crucial to be fully transparent with your doctor about how you feel and about your family’s medical history so your doctor can best support your medical needs2

Your eyesight is crucial to how you experience life. If your vision is prohibited in any way it can alter your quality of life and can cause you to experience stress, anxiety, depression, and other forms of mental health issues.  On the contrary, your mental health is connected to your physical health in the sense that if you are struggling mentally, you can also feel those effects visually. 

If you or someone you know is struggling with their mental health, please view the helpful resources below: