An inquiry into the emotional impact of sight loss and the counselling experiences and needs of blind and partially sighted people
Background: The link between sight loss and depression is well documented. The UK Vision Strategy seeks to bring the emotional impact of sight loss into public awareness and improve access to emotional support for visually impaired people. However, dedicated counselling services for visually impaired people remain scarce, and research into the effectiveness of psychological interventions is predominantly anecdotal rather than evidence based. Aim: To explore the emotional impact of sight loss in four core areas (mood, self concept, social connectedness and loss), and to explore the counselling experiences and needs of blind and partially sighted adults. Method: Data were collected using the mental health and social functioning sub-scales of the National Eye Institute Visual Functioning Questionnaire-25 and semi-structured interviews transcribed and analysed using grounded theory. Results: Participants with a serious eye condition shared a common transition from sight to blindness, starting with diagnosis, coping with deterioration of sight, experiencing loss in different areas of life, experiencing changed perceptions of self in relation to society, experiencing others in a changed way and experiencing rehabilitation. A theoretical model describing the transition from sight to blindness is proposed. Participants reported negative perceptions of counselling and a lack of counselling opportunities in relation to their sight loss. Implications: The implications for policy and practice are discussed, particularly the need for counselling after diagnosis of visual impairment and the specific challenges facing those who deliver counselling to blind and partially sighted clients.