An increased risk of suicide may be associated with visual impairment, perhaps due to its indirect negative effect on health, according to an article released on July 14, 2008 in the Archives of Opthalmology, one of the JAMA/Archives Journals.

Visual impairment is irreversible and may be caused by various eye conditions that have additional psychosocial and health effects. These effects could include impaired daily living, social isolation, mental impairment, increased dependency on others, increased crash risk in motor vehicles, falls and fractures, depression, and poor self-rated health. According to the article, this can influence lifespan: “Increased mortality risks also have been noted in adults with visual impairment and disabling eye disease.”

This leads to questions about the causes of death of these visually impaired individuals. To investigate this issue, Byron L. Lam, M.D., of Bascom Palmer Eye Institute, University of Miami School of Medicine, and colleagues performed a meta-analysis examining data from national health surveys between 1986 and 1996. A total 137,479 subjects reported demographic information and details of visual impairment and other conditions. Then, the participants’ deaths were verified through 2002 using the National Death Index.

An average of 11 years of follow up were performed during which the researchers identified 200 deaths due to suicide. These deaths were correlated with visual impairment and the subjects’ given ratings of self-reported health or other conditions. These indirect effects from visual impairment on suicide were significant.

The authors summarize the results: “After controlling for survey design, age, sex, race, marital status, number of non-ocular health conditions and self-rated health, the direct effect of visual impairment on death from suicide was elevated (increased by 50 percent) but not significant.” They continue, discussing these indirect effects further: “The combined indirect effects of reported visual impairment operating jointly through poorer self-rated health and a higher number of reported non-ocular conditions increased the risk of suicide significantly by 18 percent.”

They conclude, indicating that visual impairment and suicide risk are indeed correlated to one another. “In summary, we observed that reported visual impairment increased suicide risk, particularly indirectly via reported health status and health conditions,” they state. “Our results suggest improved treatments of visual impairment and factors causing poor health could potentially reduce suicide risk.”

Reported Visual Impairment and Risk of Suicide: The 1986-1996 National Health Interview Surveys
Byron L. Lam; Sharon L. Christ; David J. Lee; D. Diane Zheng; Kristopher L. Arheart
Arch Ophthalmol. 2008;126(7):975-980.
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Written by Anna Sophia McKenney