Garry Lone struggled with depression most of his life. As he experienced vision loss, his depression worsened.
“My vision loss impacted my depression because I used to be able to do things that require clear vision,” Garry says. “I cannot ride my bike independently or watch Westerns on TV anymore.”
Did you Know? Research studies have indicated that between one quarter and one third of adults with low vision experience depression (JAMA Ophthalmology).
While vision loss directly affects your visual system, its overall impact can be immense and alter mental health. You may feel you can no longer do the activities you enjoy. You may feel like a different person—someone who needs help, feels less independent, disconnects with friends, or loses confidence and self-worth. Depression can be part of a downward trajectory that deepens each time an activity is encountered you no longer can do in the same way as before vision loss.
This article explains the signs of depression, suggests what you can do to work through the experience, and provides some advice for family members and loved ones.
How do you know if you are experiencing depression?
We all have down days or occasionally feel blue. When might those feelings signal depression? VisionAware.org offers the following lists of emotional and physical symptoms that may signal depression when they last for more than two weeks and disrupt daily life.
- Loss of interest in life
- Not feeling pleasure in things you used to enjoy
- Feelings of worthlessness
- Lack of hope
- Fatigue and decreased energy
- Excessive sleep
- Persistent aches or pains that do not ease with treatment
- Increased or decreased appetite
This video from the American Foundation for the Blind tells one woman’s story when she experienced vision loss. She went from denial about having a problem to depression to finding a way to re-invent herself by seeking services. It can be viewed on YouTube.
The first steps to get help can be hard. At first, you may deny that things are different or you may feel helpless. You may not know what help is right for you or how to access it. Be honest with yourself and reach out to someone you trust, like a family member or friend.
Then find a mental health provider in your area, talk to your physician or contact your county’s Aging and Disability Resource Center. If you are working with a vision rehabilitation specialist, ask that person. Take the first step to call and schedule an appointment. Prioritize that appointment and make arrangements early to have transportation available to get you to and from the appointment. Depression is treatable. Research suggests that medication, talk therapy, and self-guided learning can make a difference.
If you have thoughts of suicide or plan to harm yourself, get immediate help. Call a local crisis line. Here is a list of Wisconsin crisis lines by county . If you have trouble connecting to someone, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or call 911.
Family or friends may want to make these phone numbers accessible for you. In a crisis, there may not be time to go online and locate a number. They can create a large print card that has the phone numbers of the local crisis line and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline in large, bold numbers. They can program the numbers onto a smart phone, record the numbers on an audio recorder, or braille the numbers on an index card. Whatever method is used, make it readily available.
Low vision support groups may be able to help. Go to meetings and meet others who have or are traveling the same emotional path. Having social connections can help to alleviate depression. Find a list of Wisconsin low vision support groups at WCBlind.org/vision-services/support-groups/. Within your low vision support group, you can discuss and share ideas for helpful strategies with other group members.
Garry shares some self-care strategies he uses to work through his depression.
“I got a talking book player from the [Wisconsin Talking Book and Braille] Library and I listen to western talking books,” Garry says. “Instead of riding my bike, I take a walk each day and try to be active as much as I can. Both of those things help a lot.”
Some other helpful strategies you may want to try are:
- Get exercise each day: This can be as simple as taking a daily walk in your neighborhood, around the local shopping mall, or up-and-down the aisles of a nearby big box store.
- Watch what you eat: Include lots of fruits and vegetables; reduce carbohydrates.
- Sleep regular hours: Getting between seven to nine hours of sleep each night is optimal for brain and body health.
- Take time to relax: If relaxing does not come naturally or your thoughts turn negative when relaxing, make the time to get help learning to relax and quiet your mind.
- Reduce stress: Check your local senior center or community recreation program for classes on mindfulness based stress reduction.
- Be open to learning new ways to do everyday activities: A vision rehabilitation specialist can help you figure out alternative techniques so you can do the things you enjoy. Make an appointment to meet with that person, because their help can begin to change your thinking about the ability to participate in everyday activities. They can come to your home, so travel on your part is not necessary.
Vision loss can be tied to mental health. It is common. Feelings of denial and helplessness may have turned into depression. You are not alone. Reach out and seek help. Talk to a trusted family member or friend about what you are experiencing.
“If your loved one tells you they have depression, listen to them and try to be there for them,” says Connie Lone, Garry’s wife of 45 years. “I can tell when Garry is getting anxious if we are around too many people or an environment is getting too loud. We leave those situations. Garry knows that I will be there for him, and we take it one day at a time.”
If you would like a vision rehabilitation home visit, contact Brent, the Council’s Certified Vision Rehabilitation Therapist at (608) 237-8112 or email bperzentka@WCBlind.org.