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Mental Health Disorders and Epilepsy

August 6, 2020

Mental health disorders are often a complicated conundrum for clinicians to diagnose and treat, especially when factoring in a coexisting neurological condition like epilepsy.

Unfortunately, people with epilepsy have an increased risk of several mental health disorders, including depression, anxiety, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder—also known as ADHD.

The statistics are grim: close to one in five people with epilepsy also have symptoms of ADHD, and nearly one in three people with epilepsy suffer from anxiety and depression.

Scientists are not entirely clear on why epilepsy and mental health disorders often overlap. Epilepsy on its own is a complex neurological disorder, and it becomes even more challenging to identify the origins of a coexisting mental health disorder when factoring in biological, psychological, and environmental causes.

Biological Causes

Sometimes, the neurobiological effects of epilepsy itself can cause anxiety, depression, and attention deficits. Auras and other types of seizures can directly cause changes in awareness and mood due to disruptions in the electrical activity of the brain—particularly in regions of the brain that regulate memory and emotions, like the hippocampus and amygdala, respectively.

On top of that, some anti-epileptic drugs, or AEDs, that are prescribed to control seizures can also affect a person’s mood, energy levels, and ability to concentrate.

Psychological and Environmental Causes

Living with a chronic medical condition like epilepsy can cause immense emotional and psychological stress. It’s no wonder, then, that some people suffer from mental health disorders in response to the stress of coping with epilepsy. To complicate matters further, stress can also exacerbate epilepsy and sometimes act as a trigger for seizures.

Dealing with seizures can understandably be very anxiety provoking, and having a serious medical condition like epilepsy can lead to social isolation, underemployment, and chronic stress—all environmental factors that can increase a person’s susceptibility to depression and anxiety. Add in COVID-19, and it’s easy to see and completely understandable how stress can boil over into more serious mental health issues.

Seizure Diaries to the Rescue!

Mental health disorders can be a perplexing medical mystery for clinicians and an isolating experience for patients—especially when a chronic medical condition like epilepsy is thrown into the mix.

That’s why open communication between clinicians and their patients about mental health is key in forming a holistic treatment plan that supports a person’s physical and mental wellbeing.

It’s essential that a person with epilepsy keep track of their seizures, mood, medication response, and other symptoms so they can share this information with their clinician, who can then use this information to detect correlations between a person’s seizures and mental health. One of the best ways of recording this data is by—you guessed it—using a seizure diary.

The more information a person records about their epilepsy and mental health, the more empowered they are in managing their health, and the better informed their clinician can be when creating a comprehensive treatment plan.

The Takeaway

Although mental health disorders present unique diagnostic and treatment challenges in the context of epilepsy, the good news is that mental health disorders are treatable with proper medical support and self-care.

For more information, stay tuned for part two of our series on mental health and epilepsy!

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