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The impact of visual impairment on children’s mental health

Updated: Apr 20, 2023

Back in Roman times the poet Juvenal coined the phrase ‘a healthy mind in a healthy body,’ highlighting the clear link between mental and physical health. And yet, when we are faced with a physical health challenge it can be all too easy to concentrate on that aspect of our healing without stopping to consider whether our mental health is also affected.

This interlink between physical and mental health is certainly something which we should consider when it comes to visual impairment.

One study presented in 2018 revealed that children aged between eight and eleven were three times more likely to develop a mental health problem if they had a visual impairment.[1]

This led Consultant clinical psychologist Dr Naomi Dale to comment: “Visual impairment puts high challenges on learning and development and mental health from the earliest days after birth and throughout childhood.” Another 2016 review highlighted the link between sight impairment and a child’s psychological wellbeing, concluding that between 20% and 30% of children with sight impairment were potentially in need of professional advice and support.[2]

It has to be acknowledged that some of the studies into mental wellbeing in children with visual impairments look more towards those with severe levels of impairment. However, when we stop to think, it is perhaps easy to see how visual and mental health problems could go hand in hand. Even before we identify that a child needs some form of corrective lenses, the deterioration in their eyesight could have been adversely impacting their mental health.

A child who is unable to see the whiteboard in school or who is seen as clumsy at sports could start to feel left out, or to see themselves in a negative light. This could lead to them starting to isolate themselves from others, perpetuating a negative spiral.

For some of these children, once diagnosed the provision of corrective lenses may be all that they need. However, we should not discount the impact which wearing glasses may have on self-perception.

One Chinese study revealed that whilst the wearing of glasses lessened both physical and learning anxiety in students who studied with a high degree of intensity, less academic students reported greater levels of learning anxiety when wearing glasses.[3]

The researchers suggested that this may have been down to an increased level of teasing of glasses wearers; something which both parents and teachers should be aware of.

Those children who are not comfortable with glasses may find that corrective contact lenses are the solution. What is clear, however is that doing nothing is not a solution. Without treatment, the level of visual impairment is very likely to worsen, increasing the potential levels of anxiety and creating a problem that will last into adulthood.

If you're a parent whose child has been diagnosed with myopia or if they are struggling with their distance vision, we hope you found MyopiaFocus helpful. Please join our community or sign our petition to get the government and NHS to recognise myopia as an ocular disease/severe ocular condition and fund myopia management for children.

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