March 1, 2021

Epilepsy and depression: let’s talk about it

About Epilepsy

Many people experience epilepsy and depression. Learn about the link between the two conditions, the symptoms and epilepsy and depression treatment.

Have you ever felt low, hopeless or unmotivated for a long time? Depression is the most common mental health disorder in the world and affects one in five Americans each year. Epilepsy and depression often come together - this is something doctors call a ‘comorbidity’.

If you have epilepsy and also feel depressed it can be very difficult. However, depression in people with epilepsy can be treated. To begin with it is useful to learn as much as you can about epilepsy and depression comorbidity.

Let's learn more about epilepsy and depression symptoms, how it is treated and where you should begin.

Woman sits by river with epilepsy and depression

What is depression?

Depression is a very common mental health disorder. It is normally defined as a period of negative feelings that lasts for two weeks or longer. Common symptoms include:

  • Feeling sad for a long time
  • A sense of hopelessness
  • Guilt, anxiety or irritability
  • Feeling tired
  • Being unable to sleep or sleeping more than usual
  • Feeling unmotivated and losing interest in things you enjoy
  • Thinking about suicide or harming yourself

Depression sometimes is hereditary (which means it runs in the family) or it may come about as a result of negative experiences such as the death of a loved one, sickness, financial problems or another long term difficulty.

Depression is different to feeling sad, which is normally negative feelings that are caused by a specific problem in your life which go away by themselves in a few days or weeks.

Tackling negative feelings: 7 tips to relieve stress and relax

What is the link between epilepsy and depression?

People with epilepsy are more likely to feel depressed than others. Various studies have shown that around half of all people with epilepsy will experience depression at some point in their lives. 

Why are epilepsy and depression symptoms more common for people with seizures? 

  • Anxiety about seizures

Seizures can be very scary events and so it is perfectly natural to feel worried or anxious about them happening.

  • Effects of seizures

The after effects of seizures can sometimes make you feel depressed. Depending on the kind of epilepsy you have and where in your brain the seizures begin, they may directly affect the parts of your brain which alter your mood.

  • Medication

Depression is a side effect of some anti epilepsy medications - so you should always speak to your doctor if you believe that your negative feelings are caused by your medications.

  • Social factors

Living with epilepsy may affect your personal and professional life and may stop you from doing things you would like to (such as driving, or certain sports). Epilepsy is sometimes stigmatized too, and some people feel they need to hide their condition. These social factors can also contribute to negative feelings and lead to depression.

Epilepsy and depression treatments

If you or someone you know is living with both epilepsy and depression, it is good to know that there are several treatment options available. Epilepsy and depression treatments include:

  • Epilepsy and depression medication  

There are numerous anti depression medications available, all of which can help improve your mood. However, there is a risk that these medications may interact with any anti-seizure medications you take. Speak with your doctor about possible interactions – it is usually recommended to start with low doses and gradually build up.  

  • Talking therapies

Speaking about depression with a therapist can be very helpful. They can give you tools and techniques to deal with negative feelings. Ask your epilepsy doctor to refer you.  

  • Group support

There are many different group support networks where you can speak to people who are having similar experiences to you - with epilepsy, depression or both. Speak to your epilepsy treatment team to ask about where you can find support. Support groups are available in person and online.

  • Lifestyle changes

Many people with mental health disorders like depression or anxiety find that taking up a more active lifestyle and eating healthy can help. Doing regular exercise releases brain chemicals called endorphins which are a natural antidepressant. It is also recommended to reduce the amount of alcohol you consume.

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Take it step by step

Depression is a very common mental health disorder and there are times when it feels overwhelming. However, it is possible to treat epilepsy and depression, so there are many reasons to feel hopeful. The most important thing is to recognize when you are feeling low and to seek help - this can feel like a big step but it is often the start of a journey towards feeling better.