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Epilepsy and Mental Health

Epilepsy is a neurological condition that involves excessive and abnormal electrical activity in the brain, which causes seizures. Epilepsy is not a mental illness, but can be linked with many mental health concerns for reasons that are still unclear.

While some children may experience only minimal mental health impacts related to their epilepsy diagnosis, about 30-50% can experience a variety of inattention concerns, including anxiety or mood disorders. Children who have been diagnosed with epilepsy have statistically higher rates of depression, anxiety, autism and ADHD diagnoses than children without epilepsy; as much as five times higher than the general pediatric population.

It’s important that signs and symptoms of mental health issues are recognized early and adequate comprehensive treatment is sought out without fear of judgment.

Epilepsy and the Family

For patients who receive a new diagnosis of epilepsy, it is normal to struggle with feelings of sadness, embarrassment, anxiety, worry, fear, helplessness, frustration and anger. It is common for children with epilepsy to struggle with self-esteem issues and worry about the reaction of their peers causing them to withdraw and isolate. Unlike physical differences that come with some medical diagnoses, epilepsy is at times hard to recognize and only further exacerbates the feelings of being “different” from their peers.

It is encouraged to have open and honest developmentally appropriate conversations with your child about their medical condition. Allow them to ask questions and try to respond in simple, honest language. This will help them become well informed and adjust psychologically and emotionally better to the changes they are experiencing. By speaking with a child honestly, the fears and tales they are forming in their mind about their condition and what others will think will be reduced.

It is important to recognize that epilepsy does not just affect the patient, but the entire family system as well. Research has shown that the way in which parents react to their child’s diagnosis and seizures is one of the best indicators of epilepsy’s impact on the child. Counseling and social support groups for children and adolescents living with epilepsy and their families would benefit from these supports.

If you have, any concerns about speaking with your child about their epilepsy diagnosis, or are looking for a parent support group, consider about joining our Epilepsy Support Program to meet other parents who have often dealt with the same questions.

If your child has epilepsy and any signs of depression, anxiety or ADHD, it’s important to talk to your physician. Together, you can find a treatment plan that will help you address your seizure and mental health needs.