A woman with her head bowed and eyes closed shares a single tear drop with a close-up of two closed eyes.

Mental Health Impacts: Depression

There is no doubt that our mental and emotional health take a big hit after a diagnosis of macular degeneration. Though it isn’t always easy to know what’s happening to us emotionally in the moment, over time we may become aware that our painful feelings are often more than just temporary shock.

Battling extreme vision loss

The mental health aspect of macular degeneration is one that demands discussion, no matter how difficult it may seem. It’s the HARD truth that battling extreme vision loss, fear, and uncertainty of the future goes hand-in-hand with some uncharted feelings of depression, anxiety, and grief.

In this three-part article series, I will discuss all three probable and diagnosable components of macular degeneration. Though they do often manifest together at one time or another after diagnosis, they are all each unique in how they affect our minds, bodies, and yes... our ability to continue living fully and joyfully despite our diagnosis.

The difference between depression and clinical depression

Whenever there is the word ‘clinical’ in front of the diagnosis of depression, it simply means that it is a more severe form of diagnosed depression. Clinical depression causes a greater disruption in a person’s ability to live life fully and joyfully.

It’s important to know that there is a large spectrum of the effects of depression ranging from temporary feelings of sadness and lack of motivation all the way to extreme debilitating feelings that don’t allow a person to function well on a day to day basis. There is a difference between feeling depressed and being depressed.

Symptoms of depression

According to the Mayo Clinic, these are the possible signs and symptoms of depression:

  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Lethargy, exhaustion or lack of energy
  • Irritability or frustration
  • Lack of interest or enjoyment in normal activities
  • Slowed thinking, speaking or body movements
  • Changes in eating habits or weight
  • Anxiety, agitation or restlessness (Note: remember depression and anxiety often go hand-in-hand)
  • Abnormal sleep patterns
  • Feelings of helplessness, worthlessness or guilt
  • Difficulty concentrating or decision making
  • Unexplained physical pain or health issues
  • Thoughts of death and suicide, or suicide attempts
  • 1

How does depression affect my vision?

Each of these untreated symptoms can make it extremely difficult to take care of our body's physical needs and therefore, the health of our eyes can suffer. Lack of energy and motivation can make it difficult to exercise. A decrease in appetite can make it hard to give our eyes the nutrients they need to be healthy. Not to mention the physical stress these difficult feelings put on our bodies. All of this adds up to one very messy health problem.

How is depression diagnosed?

People can experience mild forms of depression without a diagnosis. However, if depressive feelings or symptoms persist and are severe, a diagnosis may be an important part of healing and coping.

Depression can be diagnosed by a therapist, psychiatrist, or psychologist. Each of these types of doctors can discuss depression and coping mechanisms with a person. The difference between them is that a psychiatrist or psychologist can prescribe medication for a person who may need it.

Why can macular degeneration cause depression?

Macular degeneration and severe vision loss are major causes of disability and decline of independence in a person. This, in itself, is a reason for a huge disturbance in the way we feel and in the way we live our lives, making macular degeneration a HUGE risk factor for depression.

Who does depression affect?

Depression can be an effect of a person’s chemical and genetic make-up... or it can be an effect of the onset of any life-altering change. To put it simply, depression is a complication of anyone experiencing difficult things in life including vision loss... and can be debilitating. Because of this, it is imperative that this often hidden symptom of macular degeneration is brought to light, is normalized, and is discussed outright so it can be prevented or treated.

What can I do about my depression?

Awareness is a great place to start! If you’re reading this article, you’ve already accomplished the first and often hardest step in doing something about your emotional health... you’re acknowledging your feelings and doing some research.

Self-love in combatting depression

One of the best ways to combat feelings of depression is to give ourselves a little extra love. I’ve written a few articles on this very thing titled Preserving Vision: Self-Love is Self-Care and 10 Ways You Can Take Care of Your Emotional Health Throughout the Day. Self-love doesn’t have to mean a day at the spa or an expensive mini vacation. Loving ourselves can be doing small things for ourselves that have big benefits! Really, it’s as simple as doing more of the things that bring us joy each day!

Be open to discussion

It can feel extremely difficult to openly discuss feelings of depression. Vulnerable is not an easy thing to be... but it can mean the difference between suffering through our days and living a more fulfilled and productive life. Trust me when I say you absolutely can still live a life full of joy with macular degeneration. Part of that process is working through the difficult emotions that accompany it.

Saying things out loud

Sometimes, saying things out loud and simply being heard can be so healing. Talking about difficult feelings can oftentimes help make these heavy things feel lighter. You can talk to trusted family members, friends, and loved ones who have also probably experienced feelings of depression (it’s pretty common). You can also comment on posts or tell your story here at MacularDegeneration.net where you have friends who understand. If your feelings of depression are more extreme, it may be time for you to find guidance with a professional.

Seek professional help

Let me be the first to tell you that it is more than okay to seek professional help for our mental health. I absolutely love my weekly therapy sessions... they have been so helpful in giving me the ability to live my best life. I’m not sure where I’d be today without therapy and the coping mechanisms I’ve learned while simply talking about my fears and worries.

The Mayo Clinic states “[Symptoms of depression] even if severe, usually improve with psychological counseling, antidepressant medications or a combination of the two.” I say this all the time: taking care of our mental health is not a sign of weakness or instability. It is a form of self-love and one of the biggest gifts we can give ourselves and our loved ones. 1

In the second article in this three-part series on the mental health aspect of macular degeneration I will focus on my close friend... anxiety.

You are not alone in this,
Andrea Junge

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