Orbis research reveals link between vision and mental health

A new Orbis study into mental health shows that vision impairment has a significant impact on a child’s mental health. This corroborated a previous Orbis study from 2022 that found higher rates of depression and anxiety were diagnosed in vision-impaired children.

Orbis research published in the peer-reviewed journal Ophthalmology showed children with vision impairment are worse off when it comes to their mental health and well-being.

Separate studies found that common childhood vision issues like myopia (near-sightedness) and strabismus (misalignment of the eyes) which aren’t corrected, lead to a significantly reduced quality of life, and children are more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety compared to those living without sight problems.

Reduced Mental Health and Well-Being

Traditionally, a child's eyesight is assessed purely in terms of clarity or sharpness of their vision. However, this approach does not measure a child's perception of their own visual impairment and the impact it has on them beyond their sight loss. Conditions like strabismus have been shown to cause emotional difficulties beyond sight impairment.

The most recent study from 2023, generously supported by vision care company Santen, shows that surgical treatment of conditions like strabismus drastically improves quality of life. Like most pediatric eye conditions, early detection and treatment of strabismus has the potential to transform the lives of children, removing barriers and unleashing potential.

Savynna from Barbados is screened by Orbis Volunteer Faculty, Dr. Rudy Wagner

Savynna from Barbados is screened for strabismus during an Orbis Flying Eye Hospital project.

At Orbis, we have seen firsthand the impact vision impairment can have on a child’s ability to study, make friends, and ultimately their sense of self-worth. But now we have critical evidence that can be used to influence policy decisions at the top level.

Commenting on the research, Professor Nathan Congdon, Director of Research at Orbis International says: "Our papers in Ophthalmology furnish the strongest evidence yet that impaired vision in children is associated with mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety. This latest study provides an even broader picture of a child's mental health, including quality of life, wellbeing, and self-esteem, meaning we now have a complete story about how a lack of vision care can cause mental health problems for a child."

Solutions to Improve Vision and Mental Health

Following this research, we are soon launching a new trial named See Well to Stay in School (SWISH), that will provide free eyeglasses for children in China, home to half of all children in the world with vision loss that can be corrected with a pair of glasses.

SWISH will test for the first time whether providing a simple pair of glasses offers an easy pathway to improved mental health and well-being for the millions of children around the world living with uncorrected refractive error.

The results of this study will have major implications for government health care plans and insurance policies to include early access to eye care for children to improve mental health.

A big thank you to all those who helped spearhead this critical research and latest trial in China. Given an estimated 70 million children worldwide are affected by vision impairment, and with mental health and well-being prominent global health concerns, these results should help us explore solutions and prioritize access to vision care for children.

The critical insights we get from our research inform our evidence-based approach to tackling global vision loss. If you are interested in funding Orbis research, please contact [email protected].


Early intervention is key if we are to unleash a child’s potential

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