'Blindness and mental health can come hand in hand'

Image caption,
Elin Williams, who is registered blind, said she would struggle to go into rooms when she did not know who was in there

A student with a degenerative eye condition has said more should be done to improve awareness around mental health issues affecting the blind.

Elin Williams, 20, from Conwy Valley, was registered blind at 12 years old.

She described growing up blind as "very difficult at times" and said she has had anxiety and panic attacks.

Her parents found she could not see well at three years old and she was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa at six.

Retinitis pigmentosa leads to the breakdown of light-detecting cells in the retina.

According to the Royal National Institute of Blind People, only 17% of those who are visually impaired are offered emotional support in connection with their condition.

Miss Williams, who lives an independent lifestyle and studies arts and humanities, specialising in English language, said blindness and mental health will always cause confusion.

She said: "I think there will always be a lack of understanding surrounding both topics, and especially when they're brought together."

Miss Williams explained she sometimes "felt very lonely and I went through a period of suffering with anxiety and panic attacks as well".

She added: "I've tried my best to overcome them as best as I can and come out stronger the other side."

Walking into a room and not knowing who was there can be anxiety-inducing for her and she said she did not want to go into rooms full of people.

However, she began to channel her feelings through her blog, which "helped massively".

Miss Williams added: "I eventually became more confident in talking to people about it.

"I've had a really good support network in terms of family and friends, and they've helped me come through these things and helped me to become stronger and more confident."

She said there are charities and services available that are doing "amazing things to help, so hopefully the stigma can be broken one day".

She continued: "I think it's about understanding that blindness and mental health can come hand in hand... anxiety can be triggered from not being able to see people and not being able to see the world like everyone else.

"But it's all about telling people that although there are challenges, it's possible to live a positive life despite having sight loss."