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Spotlight on link between glaucoma and mental health

Research indicates people with glaucoma are more likely to develop depression, anxiety, and sleep disorders, and with greater severity.

Melbourne-based ophthalmologist and leading researcher on the impact of glaucoma on mental health, Associate Professor Simon Skalicky, has found patients face a wide array of fears upon diagnosis, including not being able to work, loss of independence, future blindness, loss of ability to drive, and implications for their family.

Skalicky’s counterparts in New Zealand believe there are several lessons to learn from his research around thinking holistically about patient wellness, including their mental health.

This month, Glaucoma New Zealand is raising awareness of the indirect impact of glaucoma, and the need to support patient mental health and education, in the lead up to the annual Mental Health Awareness Week, 26 September to 2 October.

In a 2018 study, Skalicky and fellow researchers investigated the role of education in helping to alleviate glaucoma patient anxiety.

Newly diagnosed glaucoma patients were provided with specific glaucoma education, in addition to what they’d been told by their ophthalmologist, and outcomes such as their anxiety level and glaucoma comprehension were measured.

This research found that education had a positive role in improving the patient’s knowledge about glaucoma, reduced their anxiety, and made them feel empowered.

A/Prof Simon Skalicky.

“We need to provide educational resources to empower individuals to take control of their own health and not be passive users of healthcare facilities,” Skalicky said.

“I’m a big believer that knowledge is power and that patients deserve to know everything. It’s very important that glaucoma patients, and their wider networks, have access to all the information they need, feel supported, and join networks where they can connect with others and feel less isolated – that’s where Glaucoma New Zealand plays such a vital role.”

Professor Helen Danesh-Meyer, chairwoman of Glaucoma New Zealand, agreed with Skalicky.

“We’re passionate about saving sight because we know that this is essential to retain independence. We want to improve Kiwis’ understanding of glaucoma and the treatment options available to help to reduce the fear and loneliness that can accompany a glaucoma diagnosis,” she said.

“We connect Kiwis living with glaucoma with a community, social services, and information to help them to maintain their quality of life and provide psychological support, information, and encouragement.”

To find out more about the support and services that Glaucoma New Zealand offers, head to glaucoma.org.nz, or contact them directly for support via freephone 0800 452 826 or email at info@glaucoma.org.nz.

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