Vision and Psychiatric Problems


The individual on your right is Andreas Lubitz.  He was the co-pilot of a Germanwings jetliner who apparently committed mass murder/suicide by steering his Airbus A320 flight into the mountainous French Alps, killing everyone aboard.  This may lead to a simple change in airline policy where the cockpit cannot be occupied by one individual alone.  If, for example the pilot exits to use the rest room, a flight attendant would have to be present in the cockpit until the pilot returns.  From the front page of today’s New York Times:

“Andreas Lubitz, who was flying the Germanwings jetliner that slammed into a mountain in the French Alps on Tuesday, sought treatment for vision problems that may have jeopardized his ability to continue working as a pilot, two officials with knowledge of the investigation said Saturday.

The revelation of the possible trouble with his eyes added a new element to the emerging portrait of the 27-year-old German pilot, who the authorities say was also being treated for psychological issues and had hidden aspects of his medical condition from his employer. The police found antidepressants during a search of his apartment here on Thursday, an official said Saturday.

It is not clear how severe his eye problems were or how they might have been related to his psychological condition. One person with knowledge of the investigation said the authorities had not ruled out the possibility that the vision problem could have been psychosomatic.”

Dr. Carole Hong and I wrote a paper for California Optometry that came to mind as I read this article.  Although our  paper addressed the influence of childhood behavioral issues and visual problems, these problems are not necessarily limited to childhood.  They tend to come under the general category of functional visual loss, and there have been reports in the past that visual problems among psychiatric patients are under-reocgnized and under-diagnosed.  What may have also been a factor in this tragedy is side effects of drugs that Mr. Lubitz was apparently taking to treat his psychiatric problems.  It takes some searching to come up with in-depth articles that  lend proper gravity to these issues, but I suspect that this tragedy will focus a spotlight on them at least in the short-term.



4 thoughts on “Vision and Psychiatric Problems

  1. I had the same thought about a possible undiagnosed BV problem that may have plagued him. I also know of a lady who committed suicide because of the unremitting pain from dry eye. The what if’s haunt me …

  2. See: RJ Donati RJ, Maino DM, Bartell H, Kieffer M. Polypharmacy and the Lack of Oculo-Visual Complaints from those with Mental Illness and Dual Diagnosis.Optometry 2009;80:249-254. and Schnell PH, Maino D, Jespersen R. Psychiatric Illness and Associated Oculo-visual Anomalies. In Taub M, Bartuccio M, Maino D. (Eds) Visual Diagnosis and Care of the Patient with Special Needs; Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. New York, NY;2012:111-124.

  3. Thanks for bringing to light again the important role that vision can play in how one acts and feels about themselves and their environment. I had a patient who was extremely anxious and fearful about her vision changing and was afraid to go to school or the mall because she did not want her vision to change back to looking as if she was looking in a fish bowl! We are so glad that we have the tools to correct vision problems that may interfere with one’s emotional well being and we are quite fortunate to collaborate with other professionals to make a difference!

  4. I missed this post back in March, but the link between mental and visual perception has long fascinated me. I found the news coverage of Mr. Lubitz’s condition(s) to be dull and obvious–depression can cause psychosomatic vision problems; bad vision can drive someone crazy–when the reality of living with both psychiatric and vision issues is much fuzzier.

    I don’t usually share my vision therapy notes (they were intended for my optometrist to track my weekly progress), but a few entries highlight how much more complicated the mental-visual connection has been for me as a patient. These are the first ones I found:

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