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.”
The mental health impact of vision loss can be enormous. Researchers estimate that between a quarter and a third of adults with low vision experience depression. You may feel you can no longer engage in 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. These feelings can worsen every time you find you can no longer do something the way you did it before.
How to Recognize 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
- No 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
- Appetite changes
This video from the American Foundation for the Blind tells one woman’s story of how she experienced vision loss. She went from denial about having a problem to depression to finding a way to reinvent herself by seeking services.
The first steps in getting 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 available, what services are right for you, or how to access them. 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. Your physician or your county’s Aging and Disability Resource Center may be able to help you find one. 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. Remember that depression is treatable. Medication, talk therapy and self-guided learning can all make a difference.
If you have thoughts of suicide or plan to harm yourself, get immediate help. Call the national 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, or use this list of local crisis lines in Wisconsin by county.
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 and Crisis 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.
Low vision support groups may also be able to help. Go to meetings and meet others who have traveled or are traveling the same emotional path. Having social connections can help to alleviate depression. You can find a list of Wisconsin low vision support groups here.
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:
- Watch what you eat. Include lots of fruits and vegetables, and 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 relaxation does not come naturally or your thoughts turn negative when relaxing, make the time to get help learning to relax and quiet your mind, for example through a meditation class. 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.
It is common for vision loss to affect one’s mental health, and those feelings of denial and helplessness can grow 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.”