The Impact of Mental Health on Individuals with Seizure Disorders

Mental Health and Seizure Disorders

For my first general post, I felt it was important to justify the importance of mental health issues (anxiety, depression, etc) for individuals with seizures and seizure disorders.

Lets’s break down some information:

In the General Population:

6.9% of adults have experienced a major depressive episode in the past year

18.1% of adults experience an anxiety disorder

1.1% of adults live with schizophrenia

2.6% of adults live with bipolar disorder

In those with Seizure Disorders, things get a Little Murky…

After reading through multiple research articles, there is a general consensus that people with epilepsy are at a much higher risk of developing depression and or an anxiety disorder.  Some studies showed that up to 55% of individuals with epilepsy have depression and up to 40% have an anxiety disorder.   Unfortunately, the actual percentages of individuals with each disorder was wide ranging between studies, from as low as 22% to as high as 65%.  This was most likely due to small samples of patients in these studies, in addition to using surveys to determine if someone had a mental illness as opposed to conducting a proper interview.

A few things stand out to me about these figures.

Research Relating Mental Health and Epilepsy is Lacking Compared to the General Population.

The percentages of mental health disorders in the general population is relatively precise, to the decimal point.  For those with seizure disorders, the data is so small and so underpowered (in terms of actual people participating in the study), that the most definitive statement that could be made in some of these studies is that those with seizures disorders are at a higher risk of mental illness than those without.

One pattern that was generally accepted was that a lot of the anxiety and depression related to epilepsy begins around the time of the first seizure, progressively getting worse.  This, in my opinion, is a critical finding that is not being properly addressed.  Unlike depression or anxiety in the general population, epilepsy has a clear start date (even if it takes a few years to be formally diagnosed).  Most people remember how old they were when they had their first seizure.  I was nine years-old for instance.  

Why is this important?

If the majority of the general population does not have a clear onset due to an inciting event, in our case a seizure, then maybe research should not be comparing those with seizure disorders to the general population.  Maybe our research should be focused more on another mental illness.  One with a clearly defined, inciting event which evidence has shown improves best with early intervention of treatment.

Maybe Epilepsy Needs to be Researched in Relation to Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Having a seizure is a traumatic event.  I’ve heard countless stories of injury, embarrassment, ridicule, being arrested, among other things.  These are memories that stick with us, and can lead to symptoms consistent with PTSD.  One example I can share is that I hit my head quite hard on a ceramic sink after falling during a seizure.  I don’t personally recall the event happening (although my bloody face served as a nice reminder).  Regardless, anytime I wash my face in the sink and I get within a certain distance of the ceramic, I have a startle response.

My point is that we can learn to implement a way of early intervention for those with new onset seizures.  Specifically, with ways to screen for and treat and anxiety and depression.  The tricky part is that research has been conflicting regarding what type of interventions are most helpful.

I would love to hear your ideas regarding how your needs can better be met by your healthcare providers.

Please comment below about this topic or anything related to the questions below.  It will help me decide what some of my next blog posts will be about.

  • Have you ever been asked by a healthcare provider if you were anxious or depressed?
  • Were you afraid to answer honestly?
  • Have you ever thought that maybe feeling depressed or anxious were just a side effect of your medication?

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