Understanding Epilepsy and Mental Health during Mental Health Awareness Month

May 24, 2023

Each year, Canadians recognize May as Mental Health Awareness Month. It is a time to educate ourselves about mental illnesses and the many impacts they can have on a person’s life. Epilepsy itself is not a mental illness, however studies show that individuals living with epilepsy have an increased incidence rate of many mental health illnesses including depression and anxiety.

  • It is estimated that the prevalence of depression in association with epilepsy is as high as 55% 1
  • Studies suggest 33% of people with epilepsy recall having encountered enacted stigma/bullying while 90% admit to experiencing felt stigma 2
  • Prevalence of suicide ideation among people with epilepsy ranges from 2.5 to more than 7 times that of the general population, with a rate of completed suicide of more than 30 times the global estimated rate 3
  • Up to 25% of people with epilepsy live with a generalized anxiety disorder 1

It can be difficult to understand whether mental health impacts on individuals with epilepsy are based on how epilepsy affects their life, or more directly how their brain is affected by seizures. While it can be hard not to focus on the ‘why’, we encourage individuals facing mental health challenges to focus on steps to help manage their symptoms. Here are some strategies that may be helpful for people with epilepsy facing mental illness and mental health challenges:

Reach out to your local Community Epilepsy Agency: Many local agencies offer programs and services directly related to mental health challenges and epilepsy including Cognitive Behavioural Therapy based programs and counselling. If your local agency is not currently providing the appropriate programming, they may be able to direct you to another epilepsy agency that is, or other mental health resources in your community. (Click here to find your local agency in Canada)

Never underestimate the power of a support group or peer-to-peer support: Living with epilepsy can be incredibly isolating; support groups offer a safe environment to share challenges, fears, triumphs and more.

Journal about more than just your seizure activity: It is important to track seizure frequency for many reasons, but it is also incredibly important to pay close attention to your day to day mood, behaviours, and quality of life. Share details about your mental health with both your general practitioner, as well as the specialist managing your epilepsy.

Know that you are not alone: Please connect with Epilepsy Durham Region if you have any additional questions.

Please note, if you are concerned about your mental health, please consult your doctor as soon as possible. If you or someone you love is in crisis, please connect with your local crisis centre (Durham Region: Durham Mental Health Services – Crisis Response | 1-800-742-1890).

  1. Jackson, M J., and D Turkington. “DEPRESSION AND ANXIETY IN EPILEPSY.” Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry, 2005, https://doi.org/10.1136/jnnp.2004.060467.
  2. “Epilepsy: A Public Health Imperative.” WHO International, 13 Jun. 2019, www.who.int/publications/i/item/epilepsy-a-public-health-imperative.
  3. “The Black Dog in Your Waiting Room: Screening for Depression in People with Epilepsy.” EPIGRAPH, vol. 21, no. 4, 2019, https://www.ilae.org/journals/epigraph/epigraph-vol-21-issue-4-fall-2019/the-black-dog-in-your-waiting-room-screening-for-depression-in-people-with-epilepsy