How to cope with epilepsy and depression

Comorbid conditions affect a wide proportion of the population. There are 3 million people living with epilepsy in the United States, and one in 26 will incur it at some point in their lives. The most markedly obvious symptom of this disorder is seizures, but many individuals living with epilepsy also suffer from fainting spells and chronic fatigue. Often, muscle spasms occur that don’t progress into full blown seizing events. Sometimes, these spasms will cause pins and needles sensations under the skin that can be particularly disturbing and uncomfortable because it may last for a prolonged period of time. Still, physical symptoms aren’t all that epilepsy brings with it. Frequently, suffers also deal with amnesia and mental health woes like anxiety and depression.

Depression

People who suffer from epilepsy often end up living with depressive disorders. To most people, this makes sense. A person is diagnosed with a chronic condition and it saddens them so much that depression develops over time. In many instances, that is how it works. However, depression is far more than an emotional response to a diagnosis of epilepsy for many of these individuals. Studies show that depression exists in people with epilepsy who suffer from consistent seizures. It also shows that individuals who go months on end without suffering from seizures still suffer from depression, too. The two events seem to occur regardless of the other’s influence.

There are many reasons that epilepsy and depression may coexist. For starts, both use the same neurological pathways in the brain to operate. In addition, genetic predisposition may account for the development of both disorders in some people. Mood disorders are no stranger to epilepsy for this reason. While the epilepsy may not be causing the depression, the latter surely makes it more difficult to live with the former, and vice versa.

Teenagers who suffer from epilepsy seem to be especially prone to developing depression. In one study, it was noted that roughly 60 percent of teens living with the disease would incur a depressive disorder. Still, only about one-third of them would receive any kind of treatment for it. Among all people with epilepsy, as much as 30 percent will suffer from depression. This condition often sounds milder than it is. Depression is more than just a slew of bad days and tearful episodes, though. For many, it could spell the end of their life. The suicide risk among people with epilepsy is approximately 10 times higher than it is for the general population.

Treatment

Bouncing back from depression is difficult when no one is sure what is causing it. If epilepsy is the cause, that only presents further difficulty. Whether it’s an emotional or biological catalyst, knowing it’s the cause doesn’t help to remove depression from the equation. Searching for a root cause will often lead patients and their doctors in circles. Instead, treating symptoms in the meantime is the most effective approach. Prescription antidepressants, coupled with intensive therapy, support group meetings, and lifestyle changes to incorporate more positivity are a great start at improving both conditions.

Cite this page: Danielle Bosley, "How to cope with epilepsy and depression," in PsychologyDictionary.org, January 30, 2017, https://psychologydictionary.org/article/how-to-cope-with-epilepsy-and-depression/ (accessed October 13, 2019).
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