The connection between the eyes and mental health is constantly being examined and reevaluated. Experts suggest that there are certain eye disorders tied to mental health.
Living with a serious vision issue has easily noticeable effects on a person’s mental state, such as contributing to severe depression or PTSD. However, the relationship between eye disorders and mental health can be much more complicated and not as easily detectable.
Mental Health Disorders That Can Cause Eye Issues
Some eye disorders, such as visual impairment or permanent blindness, contribute to mental health issues, but mental health disorders that cause eye problems are much rarer. However, studies suggest that they do still occur.
Eye Issues That May Be Caused by Depression
Depression can have effects on the entire body, including eye health. Clinically depressed individuals can sometimes exhibit certain eye issues that are seemingly directly related to the depression.
Researchers have found the following connections between eye health and clinical depression.
- Changes in visual perception: Studies have shown a link between depression and the ability to decipher the difference between black and white. Whether a person is on medication or not, most people with severe depression are not able to distinguish between patterns on a black and white checkerboard as well as people who are not depressed.
- Blurry vision: Severely depressed individuals are sometimes not able to view objects as sharply and clearly as people without depression. Blurry vision caused by depression is temporary and does not lead to more serious eye issues.
- Eye floaters: There is a correlation between depression and an increased number of vitreous floaters in a person’s eye. It is still unknown if depression and other emotional distress are the direct cause of an increased number of eye floaters or if the eye floaters are contributing to the depression instead.
- Eye twitching: Even though the exact cause of eye twitching is unknown, depression and stress can contribute to the involuntary movement of the muscles surrounding the eye.
- Dry eyes: Having overly dry eyes can be common among people with depression. Studies have shown a relationship between dry eye disease and depression, but it is also likely that people with severe depression are less motivated to seek treatment when they have dry eyes caused by something else.
Eye Issues That May Be Caused by Anxiety
Similar to depression, anxiety can also lead to minor eye health issues. When a person suffers from extreme anxiety or is experiencing a panic attack, their eyes will typically dilate.
Dilated pupils are the body’s natural response to the sudden surge of anxiety, allowing the individual to make faster decisions and to notice their surroundings more. However, dilated pupils can also cause eye strain and sensitivity to light.
Extreme anxiety and panic attacks also typically make the muscles on a person’s face tighten up. When this occurs, the eye’s blood flow can become restricted and cause eye pain. These temporary eye issues that are caused by anxiety typically do not contribute to any long-term damage, and anxiety disorders are treatable.
Eye Changes Associated With Schizophrenia
Schizophrenia is a rare and chronic brain disorder with symptoms that can include hallucinations and delusions.
Visual changes and eye disorders are fairly common among patients diagnosed with schizophrenia. They can include the following:
Nystagmus is a condition that makes the eyes involuntary and rapidly move uncontrollably from side to side, up and down, or in a circular motion. Patients with schizophrenia can be susceptible to nystagmus due to the brain’s optic tract, or it can be a side effect of certain medications.
Strabismus is the differential alignment of the eyes that make them appear crossed. Studies have shown that elevated rates of strabismus can be found in children who develop schizophrenia later in life, which can result in depth perception difficulties.
Less Visual Acuity (Blurred Vision)
Visual acuity is the ability to distinguish shapes and details of an object that is at a distance. There is a correlation between having poor visual acuity earlier in life and being diagnosed with schizophrenia in adulthood.
Visual Perception Impairment
Since schizophrenia affects how a person thinks and feels, it can also affect what the person sees. This impairment of visual perception includes the following:
- Being overly sensitive to different contrasts between objects
- The inaccurate perception of motion, colors, brightness, and shapes
- Finding it difficult to accurately perceive human figures and emotional responses
Visual Issues That Can Impact Mental Health
The impact on a person’s mental well-being has been directly linked to certain vision issues. Particularly, eye conditions that lead to partial or full vision loss usually negatively impact a person’s mental health. Eye conditions that cause chronic pain, discomfort, and cosmetic marks or imperfections can also have negative effects on a healthy mental state.
Partial or Permanent Blindness
The emotional toll of losing vision can be devastating and equally stressful, which can lead to these issues:
- Depression and loss of motivation
- Isolation and loneliness
- Anxiety and extra feelings of worry
The psychological issues associated with visual impairment or blindness can be treated with the help of medications and psychotherapy. Living a healthier lifestyle by having a good diet and exercising regularly can also help to ease the emotional burden of vision loss.
Other Eye Conditions That May Lead to Depression & Anxiety
Eye conditions that cause a lot of physical pain, visual imperfections, and emotional stress and uncertainty all have an impact on a person’s mental health. There have been links to the following eye conditions and feelings of depression or anxiety:
- Blepharitis: This is when dandruff-like flakes of skin infect the eye and cause redness, swelling, itchiness, and irritation.
- Corneal abrasions: These are scratches or small cuts on the front of the cornea.
- Keratitis: This is an infection caused by a virus or fungi that triggers intense pain, profuse tearing, red eyes, corneal clouding, and photophobia.
- Glaucoma: This is when increased pressure in the eye starts to damage the optic nerve and cause partial or full vision loss.
- Optic neuritis: This is when inflammation damages the optic nerve, which can be caused by infection. It is linked to multiple sclerosis.
- Stye: This is a painful red bump on the eyelid that is caused by blocked oil glands that allow bacteria to grow in the blocked gland.
- Chalazion: Similar to a stye, a chalazion is also a red bump on the eyelid, but it is not as painful. Additionally, a chalazion is caused by a blocked duct in one of the meibomian glands and causes meibomian gland loss.
Some of these eye conditions are incurable, but they can all be treated through various medications, medical procedures, and proper hygiene. Effective treatments may also result in less of the ensuing depression and anxiety as well.
Can Mental Health Disorders Be Detected in the Eye?
By studying the eyes of people who suffer from mental health issues as well as the eyes of children, researchers are finding new ways to detect the risk of developing mental health issues later in life.
Studies have shown that schizophrenia, depression, and bipolar disorder can all be detected in the eye. The small veins of the retina are wider and the retina itself is thinner among people with schizophrenia. Along with depression and bipolar disorder, schizophrenia can also be detected in the eye by an electroretinography (ERG) test.
Electroretinography (ERG) Test
An ERG test measures the electrical activity of the retina in response to light. Specifically, the test examines how the cells in the retinas, or rods and cones, react to light.
The rods are more sensitive to light than the cones in people with schizophrenia, major depressive disorder, and bipolar disorder. People suffering from these ailments also have cones that are more sensitive to color than rods.
Discovering these anomalies in a child’s rods and cones can potentially serve as an indicator that the child is at risk of developing schizophrenia, depression, or bipolar disorder.
The Link Between Eyeglasses & Depression
Wearing eyeglasses can have both positive and negative effects on depression. Wearing glasses can sometimes hurt a person’s confidence and add to their depression. Conversely, not being able to see clearly can sometimes add to a person’s depression.
Some people wear eyeglasses that don’t correct their vision. When worn for cosmetic confidence, eyeglasses can potentially improve self-esteem and alleviate some of the symptoms of depression.
Blue Light Glasses & Seasonal Affective Disorder
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a form of depression that is triggered by the seasons changing. The lack of vitamin D intake from not being exposed to the sun combined with a high exposure to a screen’s blue light can make SAD symptoms worse.
Blue light also potentially disturbs part of the body’s internal clock that helps to regulate sleep, the circadian rhythm. Wearing blue light glasses while looking at a screen can hinder these circadian rhythm disturbances and reduce eye fatigue. This helps in getting a better night’s sleep, which minimizes symptoms of SAD.
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Effects of Chalazion and Its Treatments on the Meibomian Glands: A Nonrandomized, Prospective Observation Clinical Study. (July 2020). BMC Ophthalmology.
Electroretinographic Anomalies in Medicated and Drug Free Patients With Major Depression: Tagging the Developmental Roots of Major Psychiatric Disorders. (April 2017). Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry.
Pars Plana Vitrectomy Relieves the Depression in Patients With Symptomatic Vitreous Floaters. (March 2020). International Journal of Ophthalmology.
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Last Updated February 2, 2023
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