Loss of vision—whether it happens suddenly or over time—can have a major impact on one’s mental and emotional health given its significant role in interpersonal connection, engaging in hobbies or interests, independently managing one’s daily activities, maintaining independence, and remaining physically active. Children and adolescents may struggle with social connection and academic or athletic performance as a result of vision impairment and use of corrective devices. In addition, lack of social acceptance from using visual assistive devices (including eyeglasses) may deter children from adhering to eye care treatment. Older adults may face a compounding risk in health status stemming from inability to adapt mentally and emotionally to changes in vision, leading to distress, anxiety, or depression that may cause them to disengage from physical activity (which could lead to chronic illness) and social connection.
All Americans—no matter their age, health status, socioeconomic circumstances, or racial and ethnic background—deserve to live life with clear, healthy eyesight. As the research that establishes the strength of association between vision and mental health continues to emerge, changes in visual status and function due to the impacts to one’s quality of life and life satisfaction have cost implications that policymakers should consider to decrease the overall burden of mental health.
Ensuring that Americans have access to care in other disease areas can help contribute to a reduction in negative health outcomes that exacerbate our national mental health crisis, and promoting a message that emphasizes early detection, treatment, disease monitoring, and prevention of blinding eye conditions can also reduce individual burden of disease, improve personal social and financial circumstances, and improve quality of life.
- Prevent Blindness issues recommendations to Senate Finance Committee on mental health
Social Isolation and Loneliness
Americans of all ages and backgrounds are susceptible to the effects of social isolation and loneliness (particularly as social distancing has become necessary to mitigate community spread during the COVID-19 pandemic); however, older adults in particular are at increased risk of health consequences as a result of social isolation and loneliness. Older adults who lack strong community or social support networks may become increasingly lonely or socially isolated, which can have a bi-directional effect on health. According to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine report Social Isolation and Loneliness in Older Adults: Opportunities for the Health Care System, diminishing sensory health, including vision, can cause or occur as a result of social isolation and loneliness which can in turn lead to increased risks for heart disease, stroke, cognitive impairment or decline, and mental health issues including depression and anxiety.