talking therapiesPeople with visual impairment have an increased risk of depression but more training for support staff is needed to ensure signs of depression are recognised and treatment is accessed, according to new research.

The research, published in ‘Visual Impairment, Depression and Access to Psychological Therapies’, by sight loss charity Thomas Pocklington Trust, reviewed the published literature on vision impairment and depression and examined data regarding access to psychological therapies, and included interviews with people with visual impairment, key professionals and support staff, as well as testing introductory training workshops to improve confidence in recognising depression in people with sight loss and supporting them to access treatment.

A literature review found a clear association between visual impairment and increased prevalence of depression. The link between the two is particularly connected with the extent to which someone with sight loss is able to carry out activities of daily living and contributory factors including reduced level of income and reduced access to valued activities rather than visual impairment itself.

National data from the Health and Social Care Information Centre suggests that Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme services are recruiting very small numbers of people with visual impairment for the treatment of common mental health problems. 

However, where people with visual impairment have accessed IAPT services, on average, they are equally likely to remain in treatment, to engage in routine measurement of progress and appear to present with similar levels of severity of depression and anxiety as those without visual impairment.

Dr Ian Petch, department of psychology, South West London and St George’s NHS Mental Health Trust and South West London Academic, Health and Social Care System, who carried out the review, said: “People with visual impairment told us that support staff, family and carers needed to be better included in initiatives to improve recognition of depression and access to services. Support staff also said they needed to be equipped with necessary knowledge and skills to identify the possibility of depression and support access to appropriate services.”

The evaluation of the pilot of the brief training package found that fairly brief intervention can promote confidence among a broad range of support staff in identifying depression among people with sight loss and in supporting them into access treatment.

“Further evaluation of this training across a larger sample, multiple sites and with a control comparison will help generalise the findings and establish key elements of training needed to achieve the necessary improvements in detection and referral to support services,” Dr Petch added.

Phil Ambler, research and policy director at Thomas Pocklington Trust, added: “It’s really important blind and partially sighted individuals can access the IAPT services they need. We hope professionals recognise this and refer more people onto them.

“This is a really useful study which will be continued by Dr Petch to help improve the lives of people with sight loss in South West London.”