Epilepsy and Depression

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Depression in the general community is common. About 1 in 15 young people experience depression – the majority are in the mild to moderate range.

Is depression common in people with epilepsy?

Depression is about 2-3 times more common in people with epilepsy.

Simplistically, the brain activity that causes seizures can lead to depressive moods and also the stress of living with  epilepsy can worsen feelings of depression and anxiety.

In people with epilepsy, depression can be caused by one or a combination of factors including:

  • an emotional reaction to having epilepsy, or being treated differently because of it
  • the epilepsy itself
  • the cause of the epilepsy, such as head injury or bleed in the brain
  • unwanted medication effects

Also, epilepsy may be more difficult to manage if you have depression because depression is sometimes known to make seizures more frequent and can take away the motivation to manage them effectively.

There is definitely a connection between epilepsy, depression and anxiety disorders. Some of the facts are:

  • Depression may be present before the diagnosis of epilepsy
  • People with a history of depression are 4-6 times more likely to develop epilepsy because the genetic or biological factors that cause both epilepsy and depression sometimes show before the first seizure
  • Symptoms of depression may be directly caused by seizures which may have little or no physical symptoms, but can lead to unexplained feelings of sadness, guilt or an inability to take pleasure in any activity
  • Depression or anxiety may develop soon after diagnosis
  • Depression or an anxiety disorder may happen as a consequence of living with epilepsy.

Symptoms of depression in teens with epilepsy

The symptoms of depression can include; sleep difficulties, low energy, guilt, irritability, anger, isolation from social activities and hobbies, hopelessness, and helplessness.

Teenagers are particularly at risk for thoughts about suicide, especially those with epilepsy. If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, it is very important to seek help. If you are not comfortable letting your parents or a teacher know, Kids Helpline (1800 55 1800) is a service specifically set up to help children and teenagers talk about their problems.

Seek help

It is quite normal for people to sometimes feel sad and upset. However if you find that you are feeling more and more sad, no longer interested or motivated in social activities, feeling tired, not feeling hungry (or the opposite ‘comfort eating’) and these signs last for at least a couple of weeks then it is possible you are depressed. It is important to seek help by speaking to your parents, or another person that you trust and feel close to.

Click on the play button to hear Daniel talk about his depression.

“It was obvious to me that I’d had depression for a very long time. In a sense, the epilepsy was just one more factor. I don’t know that the epilepsy has made the depression worse but it was just one more factor that I had to deal with along with other things.”

Click on the video to hear Nicole talk about her experience of not letting depression take over her life.

Nicole’s story

Other links

EAA Factsheet – Depression and Epilepsy

EAA Smartclip – Dr. Dan McLaughlin – Epilepsy, anxiety and depression

Youth Beyond Blue