Updated on  February 20, 2024
4 min read

Can Eyes Show Mental Health Issues?

9 sources cited
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The eyes are known to be windows to the soul. But they can also give a glimpse into the mind, revealing signs of mental health issues.

This article will explore how changes to your eye health can correlate to psychological challenges and why staying mindful of them is vital.

Mental Health Issues that Can Affect Your Vision

Specific mental health issues can also lead to visual complications:

Major Depressive Disorder and the Eyes

Depression affects vision in various ways. It can cause dry eyes, blurred vision, light sensitivity, and difficulty focusing. People with depression are also more likely to suffer from glaucoma, cataracts, or age-related macular degeneration.

Interestingly, MDD affects the eye’s macular thickness, retinal nerve fiber layers’ depth, cup-volume sizes, and disc area. Subsequently, this affects the sleep quality of people suffering from the disorder.4

Schizophrenia and the Eyes

Schizophrenia often brings about visual changes. There have been various accounts from authors detailing how colors, brightness, and shapes can seem distorted, particularly in the early phases of the condition.5

Those suffering may also: 

  • Misinterpret facial expressions
  • Mistake people for past acquaintances
  • Struggle to recognize faces
  • Believe their parents have been swapped out entirely (Capgras Syndrome)

These experiences suggest that schizophrenia’s effects reach beyond the mind and into the eyes, optic tract, and occipital cortex.

Bipolar Disorder and the Eyes

People with bipolar disorder can struggle with visual processing during depressive periods, leading to difficulty judging distances and recognizing objects. Their visual abilities return to normal when they feel more balanced and stable.6

Those with the condition also appear to have a heightened sensitivity to light.7 As a result, they can experience extreme discomfort in bright places or when exposed to the sun for too long.

How Vision Issues Affect Your Mental Health

Vision problems can make it challenging to communicate effectively with others, increasing feelings of alienation or vulnerability. It can also lead to:1

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Social isolation
  • Loneliness
  • Fear

Minor eye impairments can also create problems with daily tasks. For instance, it can hinder classroom learning and independent or social activities. These things can benefit a person’s mental well-being.

What Vision Issues Have the Biggest Impact

The most common sight complications that have the most significant impact on mental health include the following:

  • Vision loss: Over 25% of adults with this condition suffer from depression or anxiety. Meanwhile, younger adults with the same issue are nearly five times likelier to suffer from psychological problems than those older than 65. This is due to the former’s lack of experience in successfully adapting to their condition.1
  • Impaired Vision: People facing these challenges before age 50 are four times likelier to have mental health issues than their peers without visual impairments. It is especially true for those with severe impairment, who are nearly three times as likely to report problems. Even those with moderate impairment face twice the risk.2
  • One-third experience mild symptoms, while a staggering 10.7 to 45.2% report moderate to severe levels of depression.3
  • One research study found that 10.7% of those with impaired visual acuity report extreme levels of depression, compared to only 6.8% of those without visual impairment.3
  • 45.2% of adults whose vision is worse than 20/60 or who are blind endorse symptoms of moderate depression, significantly higher than the 16.6% of those with normal to near-normal sight.3
  • People with low vision or blindness have a higher risk of 1.6 to 2.8% of developing depression than those without visual impairments.3
  • Those experiencing vision loss, such as difficulty reading, are 1.3 to 20.8% more likely to suffer from moderate-to-severe depression than the rate of those without such impairment (4.8%).3
  • Blindness: Those who go blind later in life experience more significant anxiety, depression, and loneliness due to their inability to fully adjust to the change. Regrettably, a wide gender gap exists, with men being over four times more likely to report symptoms of depression and anxiety than their female counterparts.2

Children’s Vision and Mental Health

Children with vision impairments experience higher levels of depression and anxiety than their peers with regular sight. Some studies report a standard mean difference of 0.57 for depression and 0.62 for anxiety.

Here are other issues that can arise from vision problems in children:

  • Those with visual impairments may experience heightened feelings of loneliness, fear, and mood disorders as their level of visual impairment worsens. They are also more likely to struggle with depression than their sighted peers.9
  • Visually impaired children at 11 are at a higher risk for developing psychiatric disorders than their peers without eye problems.9
  • Young girls with visual impairments experience much more severe anxiety and depression than their boy counterparts.9
  • Kids and teens with visual impairments struggle with higher mental health issues rates than their sighted peers.9
  • Children with nearsightedness are more likely to experience depression. Studies show that the average difference in depression rates between nearsighted and non-nearsighted children is 0.58, with a 95% confidence that this difference is true.
Updated on  February 20, 2024

Related Articles

9 sources cited
Updated on  February 20, 2024
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Vision Loss and Mental Health.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2021.
  2. People With Vision Impairments up to Four Times More Likely to Suffer Mental Health Problems.” Neuroscience News, 2022.
  3. Demmin, DL., Silverstein, SM. “Visual Impairment and Mental Health: Unmet Needs and Treatment Options.” U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2020.
  4. Liu, Y. “Association between changes in the retina with major depressive disorder and sleep quality.” Journal of Affective Disorders, 2022.
  5. Torrey, EF., Yolken, RH. “Schizophrenia and Infections: The Eyes Have It .” Oxford Academic, 2016.
  6. Parker et al. “Altered Sensory Phenomena Experienced in Bipolar Disorder.” The American Journal of Psychiatry, 2017.
  7. Liebson, E. “Can light therapies help with bipolar disorder?” Harvard Health Publishing, 2020.
  8. Li et al. “Impact of Vision Impairment and Ocular Morbidity and Their Treatment on Depression and Anxiety in Children.” American Academy of Ophthalmology, 2022.
  9. Augestad, LB. “Mental Health among Children and Young Adults with Visual Impairments: A Systematic Review.” U.S. Department of Education, 2017.
The information provided on VisionCenter.org should not be used in place of actual information provided by a doctor or a specialist.