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Emotional support for those going blind is essential says Abertay academic

26 March 2014

The need for emotional support to become an integrated part of sight loss services in Scotland will be highlighted by an Abertay academic at the Scottish Vision Strategy’s Spring Conference today (Wednesday, March 26).

The Scottish Vision Strategy is Scotland’s contribution to the World Health Assembly’s resolution to eliminate avoidable sight loss by 2020, and sets out a blueprint for improvements in eye care services across the country.

Speaking from personal experience to MPs, clinicians, optometrists and other health care professionals, Mhairi Thurston – a Lecturer in Counselling at Abertay University – will say that it is essential to offer emotional support to patients who are told they are going blind.

With an ageing population and an increase in conditions like diabetes - which can increase the risk of sight loss – Mhairi will stress that emotional support is something that is going to be needed by an even greater number of people over the coming years.

Speaking ahead of the conference, Mhairi Thurston said:

"Scotland has made tremendous progress since the first Scottish Vision Strategy was created back in 2008, but there is still a long way to go.

"When you receive a sight loss diagnosis, it is essential to have the opportunity to speak to someone about it in order to help you come to terms with that diagnosis, as losing your sight can be frightening and can have life-altering consequences.

"These days, it is accepted as a given that someone diagnosed with cancer will receive emotional support, which is as it should be. But that isn’t the case for someone who is told they are going blind and we need to make sure that this changes.

"Eye consultants can give sight loss diagnoses up to 20 times a day, and if people are just left to cope with this on their own, it can result in depression, isolation and even suicide.

"In a recent survey, 1000 sight loss patients were asked about their needs, and ‘someone to talk to’ came top of the list, so there is clearly a gap between the type of eye care we are providing, and the type of care that is actually needed.

"RNIB Scotland has worked hard to get Eye Clinic Liaison Officers – who provide front line support for sight loss patients - into some eye clinics in Scotland, but there is a need to double this provision so that every eye clinic in Scotland is covered."

The Scottish Vision Strategy’s Spring Conference will take place at the University of Stirling on Wednesday, March 26.

Other speakers at the event include:

Jane-Claire Judson – Director, Diabetes Scotland
Dr Pauline Campbell - Co-ordinator, Scottish Vision, Hearing and Stroke Network
Kate Storrow - Employment and Learning Services Manager, RNIB Scotland


For media enquiries please contact Kirsty Cameron T: 01382 308935 M: 07972172158 E:

Notes to Editors:

RNIB - the Royal National Institute of Blind People - is the leading charity offering information, support and advice to almost two million people with sight loss.

Eye Clinic Liaison Officers are currently available in Edinburgh, Lothian, Borders, Tayside, Ayrshire and the Shetlands. However, nearly half of Scotland still does not have one.

About Mhairi

Diagnosed with the degenerative sight condition Retinitis Pigmentosa in 1999, Mhairi Thurston has been registered blind since 2002.

When diagnosed, she received no emotional support to help her cope with this life-changing diagnosis.

However, following this experience, she retrained as a Counsellor and is now Chair of the VISION2020UK Counselling and Emotional Support Services Group.

She is currently the only person in Scotland carrying out research into the need for emotional support during sight loss.

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