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RNIB Launch new Wellbeing Check-ins for Mental Health Awareness Week 2021

Adults and young people over the age of eleven, who are blind or partially sighted, and anyone in their support networks, can now avail of a one-off Mental Wellbeing Check-in as well as counselling or confidence-building programmes through the Need to Talk project, run by the charity RNIB in Northern Ireland.

These take place via telephone, or online through video conferencing or email. The project is supported by the European Union’s INTERREG VA Programme and managed by the Special EU Programmes Body.

Amanda Hawkins, Specialist Lead for Counselling and Wellbeing at RNIB, explains: “This year has been a difficult time for most people with the onset of the pandemic. The changes experienced across society over the last year have been particularly challenging for people who are blind or partially sighted.

“We’re here to help people talk through some of the issues that are affecting you. Currently, these might be fearful of leaving the house, worried about access to shops and services, or more dedicated to the consequences of your sight loss and how this affects your everyday life.

"It's ok not to be ok. But talking to somebody who understands sight loss, and the particular challenges you may face could really help. Our counsellors, many of whom have sight loss themselves, are ready to take your call.”

Belfast mum Julieanne Crothers (46) lost much of her sight following a serious car collision in November 2020 and was referred to RNIB for emotional and practical support.

“A vehicle that was being pursued by police hit me side on in a high-speed pursuit of a driver. I’m still in recovery both physically and mentally but am learning slowly but surely to live with my now limited eyesight.

I developed a condition called hemianopia following a stroke due to my injuries and this means I have lost over 50% of sight in both eyes on the left-hand side.  It’s a bit like having tunnel vision. It means I don’t see things coming. I’d bump into things a lot, and have to move my head to see whole objects or writing. I would also now be sensitive to light; have double vision sometimes and see images that are not actually there.

Getting support from RNIB

The hospital referred me to RNIB [the Royal National Institute of Blind people] and I would say the best support I’ve had has been from them, through their six-week Living Well With Sight Loss course and Counselling service.

I went through a really difficult time a number of years before the accident and would say I’ve gained more knowledge and support through RNIB’s Living Well With Sight Loss course and my first few sessions of counselling with them, than over the past 10 years from mental health services.

The counsellor Collette has been a great listener. My 17-year-old daughter has autism and a severe social anxiety disorder, which has been particularly heightened during this time. It really has been like a role reversal for my daughter and me as I’ve been recovering. So it’s been really good to be able to talk everything over with someone.

Coping with hallucinations following sight loss

One of the most amazing things about being involved with RNIB was being on a zoom session with a lady talking about Charles Bonnet Syndrome, which I have.

My orthoptic consultant did mention it at the time of losing sight but I didn’t take it in, so then when I started getting hallucinations I was really concerned and other people suggested it was to do with my mental health. But when I heard this lady speaking about it, it really helped explain the condition and validated what I’d been experiencing - my brain was just trying to fill in gaps in what I was seeing!

Looking to the future

Now, I’m looking forward to the opportunity to be able to meet up with people face to face and get to know other people in a similar situation. In the meantime, I’m going to try to get more active.  I would love to become more confident to go out walking in areas I wouldn’t necessarily visit.

I've done virtual armchair aerobics through RNIB and realised it is only one example of something I thought you wouldn’t be able to do if you’re sight impaired. But the way the sessions have been run and everything explained, you realise sight doesn't need to be a barrier.

The staff at RNIB have such patience and are real encouragers. It makes everything quite relaxed. It’s obvious they’ve done this for a long time and know what they’re doing.

Hopefully, things will go from strength to strength from here.”

For further information visit our Need To Talk page or get in touch with the Need to Talk team on 0303 123 9999 or [email protected].