Understanding Eye Exams As A Mental Health Diagnostic

Posted on: 1 July 2015

In recent years, mental health professionals have been working to develop a diagnostic test that relies on assessing how patient's eyes track various images and objects to make a fast, accurate diagnosis of schizophrenia. Future assessments could potentially lead to a quicker diagnosis of not only schizophrenia, but other mental illnesses as well, which will allow patients to begin efficient treatment sooner. 

If you are at risk for a mental illness, you may wonder whether you can count on your regular eye exams to screen for mental health issues and whether your regular eye exams will change as a result of this research. To answer these questions, you should know a bit more about how these new diagnostics work.  

How an Eye Exam Can Help Diagnose Certain Mental Health Issues 

Mental health screening is done through three different eye exams. The first is a tracking test, where you are asked to track a slow moving object. This test is commonly done in standard eye exams to test for muscle strength around the eye, but difficulty tracking slow objects can also be a sign of mental illness, specifically schizophrenia. 

The second test involves you looking at a picture. It has been found that patients with certain mental illnesses have different patterns in how they view the extremities of a picture as opposed to the main content. 

The third test assesses your ability to gaze at a stationary object for a period of time. 

Patients with mental health issues may have difficulties with all of these tests. However, the important part is that patients with schizophrenia have slightly different reactions than those with bi-polar disorder or depression. Currently, a new machine is being designed that will assess the patterns of your eye movements and be able to give a fairly accurate diagnosis between these three disorders. This is an important discovery because current diagnostic practices rely heavily on self-reporting of symptoms, which can often lead to an inaccurate diagnosis. 

Why Mental Health Screening Is Not Currently Part of Eye Exams 

There are several reasons why mental health screening is not currently part of standard eye exams. First, the tools needed for a fast and accurate diagnosis are still in development. Your optometrist will be able to assess whether you have a tracking problem or an irregular gaze, but they may not be able to assess the very subtle differences between the tracking style of a schizophrenic patient and one with bi-polar disorder. 

Secondly, the tests have been tried on patients with developed mental health disorders. It is still unknown exactly when a person's tracking patterns change and whether these tests can be used as an early intervention tool. 

Finally, these tests should be part of a more intensive examination by a mental health professional. 

What Your Eye Doctor Can Tell You About Your Mental Health 

After your regular eye exam, your optometrist will be able to tell you whether you have vision problems that may be associated with certain mental health issues. If you are at risk for a specific mental health problem, you should let your optometrist know. They should also be able to determine whether these vision issues are due to weak muscles or other structural problems as opposed to mental health issues. If you have tracking or gazing abnormalities, they may refer you to a psychiatrist for further testing. 

Modern western medicine is still developing a picture of how the whole body shows signs of various diseases. Currently, eye exams can help screen for diseases such as diabetes and multiple sclerosis. Although the tests are not completed yet, you should expect eye exams to include assessments for mental health in the near future. If you would like to schedule an eye exam, then visit a site like http://envisionnv.com/.