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Tessa Gatt-Rutter
April 2021

A glaucoma diagnosis can be distressing for anyone. If your loved one has recently been diagnosed with glaucoma, they may be in shock, denial, feeling hopeless, or stressed. However, with the right care and support they can preserve their eyesight and lead a fulfilling life!

Image of two arms and hands touching in caring and united way

As they adjust to this new information it's normal for them to not be okay and to need some time to process. It's always good to remind them that it's okay to not be okay. It's okay to need time. 

You too may be feeling hopeless and wondering what you can do to help. In this article Glaucoma Australia's clinical volunteer, Tessa Gatt-Rutter shares 3 simple ways you can support your loved one as they progress through their glaucoma journey. 

Encourage them to engage in help-seeking behaviour

When initially diagnosed with glaucoma, it can be emotionally overwhelming to adjust to the diagnosis and a new treatment regimen. However, it is important for people with glaucoma to follow their treatment plan, as this is what gives them best possible chance of maintaining their sight and limiting further damage to their optic nerve. 
They may also feel a heightened sense of loneliness, leading them to withdraw from their social groups if they have difficulties relating to others or feel misunderstood. But maintaining support networks and relationships is essential for their mental and physical wellbeing. If your loved one is struggling at any point in their journey, encourage them to see their GP who can connect them with support services and develop a mental health plan. 
During this time it's also important for you to stay connected with them, so they know you're available for support when needed. We understand it may be hard to find the right words to express your support. Below are some useful phrases you can use to start a conversation;
i. It’s okay to feel scared. Luckily, you don't have to go through it alone.
ii. It can be challenging at times but keeping up with your treatment plan will help you maintain your sight.
iii. Remember that practicing self-care can make you feel better. Have you considered some practices to help you with this?
iv. Maintaining social connection is an important step for your wellbeing. Would you be interested in finding a support group and meet others on a similar journey?
v. There are support lines and patient educators available to support your glaucoma journey. Would you like me to help you find and connect with them?

Remind them to practice self-compassion and self-care

Practicing self-compassion and self-care is key for people living with glaucoma. Being compassionate toward themselves requires them to recognise;

i. Common humanity - the understanding that in life things are not always going to be easy and everyone experiences   difficulties.
ii. Self-kindness - being patient, nurturing and non-judgemental toward themselves and their experiences.
iii. Mindfulness - treating incoming thoughts with kindness and curiosity and acknowledging how they feel.

Working on these three elements of self-compassion can help your loved ones be kinder to themselves as they adjust to their change in vision and lifestyle.

Additionally, encouraging them to engage in self-care activities can result in an increase in positive moods and emotions for them, and can help alleviate their stress and anxiety. What self-care looks like can vary from person to person; for someone who loves writing, self-care may involve writing a new poem, however, this same task may make another person feel more anxious.

It's all about finding the right 'person-activity fit'. If you're helping them find their self-care activity, remember it doesn't have to be a challenging task; it can be as simple as showering every day and eating healthy. A good self-care activity can help your loved one better manage the good and bad days, especially following a glaucoma diagnosis.

Consider mindfulness meditation

Another useful method to reduce negative thoughts and emotions is through mindfulness meditation. Much like practicing self-compassion, this activity involves being patient, kind and non-judgemental. 
This is especially helpful if your loved one is feeling overwhelmed as it requires them to take a moment to slow down their thoughts and feelings, and be selective about the ones they pay attention to. 

Some guided meditations you can recommend they follow are:

i.Loving Kindness Meditation’ by Kristin Neff. This form of meditation can help increase feelings of self-appreciation, self-worth, and happiness while counteracting negative thoughts and emotions that may occur following a glaucoma diagnosis.
ii. The Smiling Mind website is another handy resource that features a variety of mindfulness mediations.

Whilst these methods listed can be incredibly useful, be sure to encourage them to get in touch with Glaucoma Australia and connect with our Orthoptic Educator for support. If they're seeking a community and looking for others on a similar path, they can also join Glaucoma Australia's Facebook Support Group.

There are also a range of organisations across Australia that can help them, including;

Beyond Blue  
1300 224 636 

Black Dog Institute 
02 9382 4530 
Mental health resources and tools - Black Dog Institute

131 114 
Get Help home - Lifeline Australia

The Australian Association of Social Workers
1800 630 124

The Australian Psychological Society 
1800 333 497