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Children with visual impairment more likely develop mental health problems

New research has found that visual impairment affects learning and development and mental health from a young age

A child wearing spectacles

Children aged between eight and 11 years old who live with a visual impairment are three times more likely to develop a mental health problem than children with no visual impairment, according to new research.

Research has revealed that a third of these children are at high risk of anxiety or mood disorders with around half showing difficulties in quality of life or adaptive behaviour.

Clinical academics from Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) NHS Foundation Trust and the UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health (ICH) presented the findings at a conference held at the ICH in London (2–4 July) with the Mary Kitzinger Trust and the Royal Society for Blind Children (RSBC).

Consultant clinical psychologist and lead researcher at GOSH and ICH, Dr Naomi Dale, said: “Visual impairment puts high challenges on learning and development and mental health from the earliest days after birth and throughout childhood. The risks are even higher in those children with very low or no vision.”

Dr Dale explained that the research has helped identify the needs of children with visual impairment more effectively and establish how to meet these needs and prevent problems developing.

Speaking at the Child visual impairment and mental health – science into practice event, chief executive at RSBC, Dr Tom Pey, said: “It’s absolutely crucial that this theme of mental health and the evidence-based research that we’ve been shown by world class academics at this event, will inform healthcare provision on a national scale and raise the profile of the profound challenges these children face if their emotional wellbeing is not prioritised.”

The organisations shared that there are currently no specialised mental health provisions in the UK for blind and visually impaired children and their families. A network established at the event will now develop better mental health support for this group.