After diagnosis of a serious eye condition or sight loss, whilst the initial shock and fear is one hurdle to overcome, you may have no clear vision of who you then turn to for mental health and other forms of support. A certificate of visual impairment is important, but will it provide you with the information about the wide range of help you are going to need? To live independently and with a sense of wellbeing, it will be an advantage if you are well-informed about sight loss support pathways and how to access them.
One of the issues which is often neglected is how you will cope emotionally with the life change. The need for emotional support should be highlighted at the point when you are first told about your condition and ideally, this should be information about services and organisations who can give advice and support. Without this, the fear, isolation and additional pressure on family and friends can impact badly and lead to serious mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression.
Yet levels of poor mental health among blind and partially sighted people could be significantly lowered if the correct referral pathway could be followed at an early stage.
Opticians and ophthalmologists should know about the support services available to help with adjustment to sight loss, however, this is not always the case. Whilst professionals are excellent at what they do, which is the cause and diagnosis part of the pathway, they are often not equipped to deal with what comes next. What about the myriad questions about how you can adapt to the various changes in your life?
Professionals are simply not trained to know about local support organisations for blind people, mental health associations for sight loss and rehabilitation services for serious eye conditions. They may not even be aware of the correct sight loss referral pathway and may not be able to provide you with any information at all.
Yet it is vital that nobody is sent home having been told they have sight loss that cannot be corrected with glasses or contact lenses, without understanding their condition, what it means for their future and the help they can access.
Most councils provide support and advice on adapting your home with enhanced lighting, talking equipment and guide or grab rails. The government also offers an excellent scheme called Access to Work which can provide and fund adaptations you may need to remain in your job.
The UK Vision Strategy is led by the RNIB, in partnership with other organisations associated with sight loss and sets out a framework for improvement to the UK’s approach to eye health and the impact for people with sight loss.
Three distinct outcomes have evolved:
Whilst sight loss isn’t all about mental health, there is a strong association between visual impairment and an increased risk of depression so it is vital for relevant organisations to connect and create a network that supports people with sight loss from the moment they are diagnosed.
The RNIB’s Sight Loss Counselling team is a group of professional telephone and online counsellors. Their service is accredited by the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) and is completely confidential. Here’s the link to their web page https://www.rnib.org.uk/services-we-offer-advice-and-support-services/sight-loss-counselling-team
To find out more about accessing support, visit our resources page at https://visualisetrainingandconsultancy.com/resources/
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