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Out of the blue

Senior Research Fellow, Dr Gwyneth Rees (pictured right), has dedicated much of her career to investigating the link between vision loss and psychosocial issues.image-tools (2)

“Loss of sight is one of the most feared health conditions and its one that triggers a strong psychological response,” Gwyn said.

“The rate of depression in people with vision loss is significantly higher than that of the general population, with around one-third of older visually impaired adults showing clinically significant depressive symptoms.”

“But despite the availability of effective treatments, the majority of depressed patients aren’t seeking treatment.”

It’s this gap between depressed patients and their treatment that Gwyn is committed to address.

“One study found that just 20 per cent of visually impaired patients with depression are receiving treatment. It’s an unacceptable trend and one I’m dedicated to reverse.”

According to Gwyn, eye-care practitioners could be the much-needed conduit between a patient and their treatment.

To facilitate this link, Gwyn developed a program to train eye-care practitioners and low vision rehabilitation staff to spot the signs of depression, broach the subject with patients and refer them for treatment.

“Practitioners who undertook the training reported increased competence and confidence in managing depressed patients. It also increased the likelihood of practitioners responding to depressive symptoms,” Gwyn said.

The NHMRC has also responded to the issue, awarding CERA a substantial grant to fund a treatment program for early depression to be administered through low vision rehabilitation services.

Service staff will learn how to spot depressive symptoms, offer psychological treatment and refer patients to appropriate services.

For Gwyn, the Federal Government’s recognition and support of her work is a major step towards tackling the issue.

“My aim is to get eye care practitioners and their patients identifying and talking about depression and being open to treatment. Ultimately, I aim to have early intervention strategies for depression incorporated into clinical practice.”