People with visual impairment have an increased risk of depression but more training for support staff is needed to ensure signs of depression are recognised and treatment is accessed, according to research released today by the sight loss charity Thomas Pocklington Trust (1).

The review, ‘Visual Impairment, Depression and Access to Psychological Therapies’ (2), involved reviewing the published literature on vision impairment and depression and examination of data regarding access to psychological therapies, interviewing people with visual impairment, key professionals and support staff, as well as the testing of introductory training workshops to improve confidence in recognising depression in people with sight loss and supporting them to access treatment.

A literature review found there was a clear association between visual impairment and increased prevalence of depression. The link between the two is particularly connected with the extent to which someone with sight loss is able to carry out activities of daily living and contributory factors including reduced level of income and reduced access to valued activities rather than visual impairment itself.

National data available from the Health and Social Care Information Centre suggests that Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme services are recruiting very small numbers of people with visual impairment for the treatment of common mental health problems.

However, where people with visual impairment have accessed IAPT services, on average, they are equally likely to remain in treatment, equally likely to engage in routine measurement of progress and appear to present with similar levels of severity of depression and anxiety as those without visual impairment.

Dr Ian Petch, Department of Psychology, South West London and St George’s NHS Mental Health Trust and South West London Academic, Health and Social Care System, who carried out the review says: “People with visual impairment told us that support staff, family and carers needed to be better included in initiatives to improve recognition of depression and access to services. Support staff also said they needed to be equipped with necessary knowledge and skills to identify the possibility of depression and support access to appropriate services.”

The evaluation of the pilot of the brief training package found that fairly brief intervention can promote confidence among a broad range of support staff in identifying depression among people with sight loss and in supporting them into access treatment.

Dr Petch says: “Further evaluation of this training across a larger sample, multiple sites and with a control comparison will help generalise the findings and establish key elements of training needed to achieve the necessary improvements in detection and referral to support services.”

Phil Ambler, Research and Policy Director at Thomas Pocklington Trust, says: “It’s really important blind and partially sighted individuals can access the IAPT services they need. We hope professionals recognise this and refer more people onto them.”

“This is a really useful study which will be continued by Dr Petch to help improve the lives of people with sight loss in South West London,” he said.

For more information please contact:

Dr Ian Petch, Department of Psychology, South West London and St George’s NHS Mental Health Trust and South West London Academic, Health and Social Care System, ian.petch@swlstg-tr.nhs.uk

Thomas Pocklington Trust Press Office 0203 463 0806

Editors Notes:

(1) Thomas Pocklington Trust is a national charity for people with sight loss. Its research programme commissions and funds social and public health research initiatives to identify ways to improve the lives of people with sight loss. www.pocklington-trust.org.uk/
(2) The Research Findings report is here: ‘Visual Impairment, Depression and Access to Psychological Therapies’
The research was carried out by Ian Petch, Department of Psychology, South West London and St George’s NHS Mental Health Trust.

Find press release PDF here.