Mental Health & Epilepsy

What is Mental Health?

Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make healthy choices.

Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood.

Many factors contribute to mental health problems, including:

  • Biological factors, such as genes or brain chemistry
  • Life experiences, such as trauma or abuse
  • Family history of mental health problems

Although the terms are often used interchangeably, poor mental health and mental illness are not the same. A person can experience poor mental health and not be diagnosed with a mental illness. Likewise, a person diagnosed with a mental illness can experience periods of physical, mental, and social well-being.

Resources: MentalHealth.gov

What is Behavioral Health?

Behavioral health relates to the connection between your behavior and the health of your mind, body, and spirit. It is how your habits affect your mental and physical health and wellness.  Behavioral health has more to do with the specific actions people take. It’s about how they respond in various scenarios. Two people who are experiencing similar emotions may react in very different ways.

These may include:

  • Sleep patterns and routines 
  • Eating and drinking habits 
  • Exercise
  • Safety precautions
  • Self-care strategies

Resources: InSync Healthcare Solutions

Mental Health and Epilepsy

A crucial part of epilepsy self-management is mental health. People with epilepsy have a higher rate of depression and anxiety disorders than the general population. Several factors may explain this increased prevalence. The cause of the person’s epilepsy, such as a head injury, stroke, or central nervous system infection, can all contribute to depressive and anxiety disorders.

Epilepsy can cause disruption in the chemical messengers (neurotransmitters) in the brain and can present many stressors such as the loss of driving, difficulty at work, and fear of having a seizure at an inopportune time or place. In children, seizures can impact school both academically and socially. These significant ongoing sources of stress can contribute to the development of anxiety and mood challenges. The treatment of epilepsy can have a positive, neutral, or negative impact on mood and anxiety

Most prevalent mental health conditions in people with epilepsy:

  • Depression:
    • 30-35% of people with epilepsy also experience depression
  • Anxiety:
    • 10–25% of patients with epilepsy and, in the majority, this is a generalized anxiety disorder
  • Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD):
    • ≥ 20% of children with epilepsy have clinical ADHD 
    • 1 in 5 adults with epilepsy experiences ADHD symptoms 

Epilepsy influences the lives of people with seizures and families as it may restrict certain activities. Taking medicines, not driving, maintaining regular sleep cycles, limiting alcohol use, and making other lifestyle changes can lead to feeling a loss of independence.

  • Factors associated with behavioral challenges involve fear, stress, frustration, and embarrassment of having seizures.
  • Areas in the brain that control emotions and behavior may not work properly due to epilepsy.
  • Anti-seizure medications can change the balance of chemicals in the brain that may affect a person’s behavior.

Resources: CDC, BMJ Journals, Healthline.com, PubMed.gov

[Download Emotional & Behavior Health Booklet]

For more information on Mental Health and available resources in Minnesota, contact NAMI Minnesota.

If you or someone you know is having a mental health crisis, contact the Minnesota Department of Human Services at **CRISIS (274747) on your cell phone or text “MN” to 741741.

Caregivers Mental Health

The role of a caregiver for a person with epilepsy is a big one. This can be a parent, guardian, partner, family member, or friend, amongst many others. A recent survey found that 53% of epilepsy carers experienced anxiety and 31% have had insomnia. A caregiver’s mental health and well-being are just at important and valued as the loved one with epilepsy.

Potential Influences on Mental Health

  • How epilepsy affects one’s life
    • Available coping and self-management strategies 
    • Level of support network and outlets 
    • Access to specialized care for both epilepsy and seizures and mental health 
    • Support for social determinants of health such as food, housing, employment, education, transportation, etc. 
    • Unpredictability of seizures
    • Fear of disclosure and/or stigma 
    • Financial challenges 
    • Overall wellness such as sleep, diet, self-care, etc. 
  • How one’s brain is affected
    • Where in the brain the seizures originate from 
  • Genetic and/or family history 
  • Medication and/or treatments
    • Medication side effects
    • Medication efficacy 
    • Implanted device effects 
    • Prescribed diets

Resource: Epilepsy Foundation of America 

Proven treatments or strategies for self-management

Be fully informed of your treatment strategies
  • Be aware of medication side effects
  • Use useful medication reminders and dispense options 
  • Be informed of the timeline and projected progress made by treatment strategies
Problem-solving skills and the IDEA approach
  • Identify the problem
  • Define possible solutions
  • Evaluate the solutions
  • Act on the most appropriate solution
Identify ways to cope with double stigma

Double stigma is the result when two highly stigmatized conditions sensitive to cultural themes occur in the same individual, such as epilepsy and mental health.

  • Inform yourself of accurate information related to epilepsy and mental health 
  • Share this information with your support network 
  • Include your support network in how you practice self-care
Seek professional support and treatments for mental health and/or mental illness
Use your available social supports to have an appropriate outlet
  • Identify a trusted group within your community to connect with
  • Join a connect group through the Epilepsy Foundation of Minnesota
  • Join a group through the National Alliance of Mental Illness – Minnesota

Source: The Community-targeted Self-management of Epilepsy and Mental Illness (C-TIME) initiative: A research, community, and healthcare administration partnership to reduce epilepsy burden

Get Support from EFMN

1:1 Trusted and Confidential Support

Request support

Mental Health & Epilepsy Webinar


Local Social Meet-Ups

Learn more

Thriving with Epilepsy

Managing Your Mental Health

Brette has spoken alongside our staff and members of our Professional Advisory Board to share advice about managing mental health. “I have extremely supportive family and friends, but no one understands the impact of epilepsy on emotional and physical health.”

Continue Reading

Information Services

Our Information Services team provides free, one-on-one support for all people affected by epilepsy, whether directly or tangentially. For more information about epilepsy, mental health, and other questions, visit Information Services.

Request Support