Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Research Highlights: Visual Impairment Associated with Higher Rates of Suicidal Thoughts and Attempts in South Korea

Visual Impairment Associated with Higher Rates of Suicidal Thoughts and Attempts in South Korea

Though we generally consider mental illness to be caused entirely by dysfunction within the brain, damage to other parts of the body can strongly influence the development of mental illness. Studies have shown that visual impairment, for example, can lead to a greater incidence of depression and even suicide. A study recently published in the British Journal of Ophthalmology has further investigated the effect of visual acuity on suicide and depression in South Korea.
Researchers used medical information provided by the Korea National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey to examine visual acuity, depressive symptoms, and suicidal thoughts and/or attempts in 28,919 Korean participants aged 19 years or older. Visual acuity was measured via an eye chart and suicide/depressive symptoms were ascertained through a mental health questionnaire. Statistical analyses showed that lower visual acuity was significantly linked with suicidal thoughts and attempts. A severe loss of vision to the point of total or near-total blindness was associated with a 2-3 fold greater risk of suicide compared to participants with normal vision. However, researchers found no link between visual acuity and depression. Importantly, researchers also found that less than 30% of participants who had attempted suicide and less than 10% of participants with suicidal thoughts had sought counseling for these issues.
It is presently unclear whether the results of this study are generalizable to people of other nationalities and cultures, and further testing is needed to confirm these results in alternate populations. Despite this, the present study has important implications for the treatment of patients with poor visual acuity. Though many programs and technologies exist to improve the day-to-day lives of blind or visually impaired individuals on a practical level, treatments often do not focus on the mental and emotional toll that comes with loss of vision. Researchers of the present study have encouraged ophthalmologists to prioritize patient mental health and encourage those suffering from visual impairments to seek counseling if needed.

Br J Ophthalmol doi:10.1136/bjophthalmol-2014-306518

Caroline Russell-Troutman is the 2014-2015 Research Highlights Editor.
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