Mental Health Challenges and Epilepsy
Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: November 2021 | Last updated: May 2023
On the surface, mental health issues and epilepsy may not seem related. Epilepsy is not a mental health disorder. Seizures caused by epilepsy are not a symptom of a mental health disorder. However, your physical and emotional brain are connected.1
It can help you manage your epilepsy and your mental health if you learn more about both.
Mental health crossover
Epilepsy and mental health disorders may have overlapping symptoms. This makes diagnosis for either condition challenging. For example, some focal seizures may be mistaken for flashbacks, panic attacks, or attention deficit disorder.2
On the other hand, mental illness symptoms may resemble epilepsy. These similarities sometimes make it hard to diagnose and treat epilepsy.2
Depression is 4 to 7 times more common for those living with epilepsy than for those in the general population. Doctors believe there are multiple reasons for this:1,2
Damage to part of the brain that controls mood may be the most likely reason for depression among those with epilepsy.
Persistent, unpredictable seizures can lead to feelings of frustration and loss of control.
You may have fears of having a seizure in a public place. If these fears keep you from doing things you want to do with others, you may experience anxiety and social isolation.
Depression can be triggered by changes in hormone levels. Hormones also can also impact seizure frequency.
Some anti-seizure drugs can affect your mood. This can lead to an increased risk of depression. However, many anti-seizure drugs are mood stabilizers and can help improve your mood.
Depression is a treatable condition. Your doctor can work with you to identify the best treatment to maintain seizure control and treat your depression.1,2
You may first have anxiety after getting your diagnosis of epilepsy. Anxiety may also occur as a symptom of seizures. Plus, some anti-seizure drugs may add to anxiety symptoms.1
Therapy, counseling, and anti-anxiety drugs all may be helpful for treating anxiety.1
You and your family have likely had to make specific behavior changes related to epilepsy, seizures, and activity restrictions. Has this left you feeling like you have lost your independence? You are not alone. Drug schedules, driving restrictions, and lifestyle changes can all leave you wanting more independence.1
Your emotional strength
Building emotional strength when living with the challenges of epilepsy might not be easy. However, the hurdles you may face might seem more manageable when you can build emotional strength.
Finding the right balance of physical and emotional support is a good place to start. This support will help you prepare for the unknowns of epilepsy. Identify the people you rely on the most. These people will build the framework of your support network.
Joining support or advocacy groups and social media groups, and following nonprofit organizations that support epilepsy research can help build your emotional strength.1
Adopting coping strategies
Emotional strength and resilience are built by adopting coping strategies:
Imagine your emotional strength in terms of dollars. A healthy person might get 25 dollars to spend daily on normal life events. If you have epilepsy, you get 10 dollars. You have to learn to spend your dollars wisely and plan for days when you need to spend more.
Are you extra tired today? Giving yourself time to rest and recharge might be what is best for you in the moment. Practicing self-care is hard when you have responsibilities. Be kind to yourself. Epilepsy has its challenges, and you are bound to have ups and downs. Finding emotional balance and practicing self-care may take time, but it is certainly worth it.
Identify your needs
The unpredictability of epilepsy makes it hard to know what you need at times. Unmet physical, mental, and social needs will add to your emotional stress. Try to recognize your needs so you can find a way to meet them. Ask for help from trusted loved ones, who may be able to see unmet needs you have trouble identifying.
Plan for the unexpected by making sure your seizure action plan is up-to-date and distributed to the right people.
Finding the help you need
In addition to your doctors, you may find the help you need from foundations or nonprofits. In the United States, the main source of support comes from the Epilepsy Foundation. They provide:
- Local support groups
- Phone support at 1-800-332-1000 in English and in Spanish at 1-866-748-8008
- 24/7 support online for legal and other issues
- Ways to get involved in the community
Do not be afraid to reach out to your doctor for mental health help. You may find that therapy and other treatment can help.
You may have epilepsy, but you are not alone. Living with epilepsy is a journey that will have its ups and downs. Understanding your emotions helps you better understand and prepare for your future. There is strength in the support you build and develop over time.