Editor’s note: The following information was coordinated by Sandra Burgess, MSW, LCSW and updated by Katie Frederick in September 2023.
According to figures from the National Institute of Mental Health, more than one in five U.S. adults live with a mental illness (57.8 million people in 2021). Unfortunately, only about half of those seek and receive treatment. Join Accessible Pharmacy on September 29 at noon Eastern for a discussion of mental health in the blind and low-vision community. Expert presenters will discuss:
■ Psychology and therapy for the blind community
■ Medications and genomic testing
■ Peer and community support resources
■ 988 Mental Health Hotline information
Registration is free. The webinar will feature live captions and American Sign Language. If you cannot attend live, a link to the recording will be available to registrants following the presentation.
Help for Mental Health Issues
In the US, help for mental health issues is accessible to those with or without the ability to pay for it. Community mental health clinics are good places to look for a range of services and payment options. It’s a good idea to contact your primary physician because they can examine you to rule out a physical health problem that causes mental health symptoms.
Your primary doctor can also provide a referral to a mental health provider.
In addition, cities have telephone crisis lines staffed 24 hours a day by professionals, or you may visit your local hospital emergency room. Do not be afraid to seek assistance. Know that you are not alone; millions of Americans are affected by mental health problems.
Blindness, Low vision, and Mental Health
Co-occurring mental disorders are not uncommon for those of us living with blindness or low vision. The sudden loss of eyesight associated with acquired blindness is statistically known to accompany other issues such as:
- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and even suicidal thoughts. Symptoms for these disorders vary based on the individual, but these illnesses can have cognitive, behavioral, and whole-body (physical) symptomology.
As a community, we must acknowledge the importance of mental health awareness. By harnessing the courage necessary to discuss our own experiences respectfully, we can potentially help others coping with blindness or vision changes seek the professional help they need to live fulfilling lives. If you or someone you love needs support for mental health, there are ways to get help. Contact your primary physician, call your local hospital, or inquire with your insurance company for a referral.
Action Steps for Helping a Loved One
Perhaps you have a loved one who is struggling with their mental health. Peer advisor Amy Bovaird shares the following six steps she learned through supporting her brother after their mother’s death.
1. Prepare two healthy meals a day.
I had to ensure my brother ate to ward off problems with diabetes and the heavy doses of his mental health medications. I made him whatever he wanted so that he would look forward to eating. City chicken and steak were popular choices, and he appreciated my efforts.
2. Involve others in the grieving process.
I asked my nieces and my brother’s family to make time for him – they listened to his feelings and spent quality time with him. My younger brother took him out for lunch. I ate some peanut butter pie with him. It’s all time well-spent.
3. Set up guidelines.
For us, it was with my mother’s vehicle. I told my brother he could drive Mom’s car, but he could never smoke in it, and he could never take the car where my mother would disapprove. It was my biggest fear now that he had a good car to drive; he might leave on a “road trip,” which is what he did when he was stressed. Also, because he resented us asking if he took his medicine, I told him to tell me that he had. That put more power in his hands. I also tried to reestablish our routine as much as possible.
4. Build ways to commemorate a loved one.
My brother came up with this action point himself. “Every day, I want to remember Mom in some way. Maybe you and I can see the sunset like Mom and I used to,” he said, his voice cracking. He listed other things he wanted to do daily.
5. Involve the person in positive activities.
This will help the person stop thinking of “me” and start looking at others. I asked my brother to help write the thank-you cards. My brother has a big heart full of gratitude, so I could channel his energy in this area. The kindness of others touches him. It was a good plan.
6. Widen the network of those reaching out.
I asked our preacher to check on him and maybe even go to a baseball game with him. The hospice pastor will also be checking in with him. His mental health counselor knows what is happening and checks on him frequently. I ask others to pray for him, send him cards, and call him. He needs to know he is not alone.
It’s so important to reach out to those with mental health issues at any point especially following the death of a close family member or friend. We are morel likely to spiral when our safety net has disappeared. Major life changes are frightening and can catapult a person into dangerous and destructive behaviors.
I want to emphasize these six action steps to reach out to someone who has bipolar or has other mental health issues. It is never easy, but genuine concern for that person can reduce the fears that consume them.
Mental Health America contains many materials, including self-screenings for prevalent conditions like depression, PTSD, alcoholism and substance abuse, and anxiety. There are also links to explore support groups, treatment, getting help for yourself or someone else, and listings of local agencies connected with Mental Health America.
Mental Health America Toll-Free Help Hotline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has hundreds of members who advocate for the rights of those with mental illness on the state and national levels. The site features publications on specific illnesses, a place to share personal stories, and resources for obtaining assistance. Call the NAMI Helpline at 800-950-6264 or text “HelpLine” to 62640.