Increased Mental Health Conditions in Young Adults with Epilepsy

06/Aug/2020     HealthNeurosciences

Research has demonstrated a long standing relationship between chronic medical conditions and anxiety or other related mental health disorders which can worsen the outcomes of a disease and have a significant impact on the overall health of a patient.

At the Mater Centre for Neurosciences the Advanced Epilepsy Unit clinicians have recorded depression rates in over 30 per cent of their epilepsy patients within the first year of diagnosis.

Head of the Advanced Epilepsy Unit Associate Professor Sasha Dionisio said patients with epilepsy are particularly susceptible to mental health conditions due to the uncertain and debilitating impact of the condition.

“As epilepsy is most commonly diagnosed in childhood and adolescence, this is significantly impacting young adults as the condition affects their freedom to go out, ability to drive, formulate relationships and live independently,” Dr Dionisio said.

“Patients with epilepsy can feel stigmatised and withdraw from society which can lead to depression, anxiety and other mental health disorders. Depressive symptoms and episodes of anxiety are seen as serious triggers for seizures, if untreated they can worsen the condition. 

“They may also present as dissociative events—seizure like episodes not triggered by epileptic pathways. This then requires further invasive treatment complicating the way forward for the individual adding further stress and anxiety to their situation.”

Epilepsy Nurse Practitioner Peter Jones said treatment was complicated as not all medicines for depression are compatible with epilepsy medication and some can trigger further seizures.

“We work closely with our psychiatry colleagues to appropriately diagnose and treat these issues, we take a multidisciplinary approach to the treatment of epilepsy providing patients with clinical and mental health support where needed,” he said.

“The Advanced Epilepsy Unit has developed a range of different networks for patients to access support systems from mental health, NDIS funding, support groups and more.”

One such example of an internal support network is the Thrive program, designed to help patients impacted by chronic medical conditions which have affected their social development, everyday life skills and mental health, giving them the tools they need to be active members of society.

“Other networks within Mater include an established partnership with Epilepsy Queensland, art therapy and access to the Emotional Health Unit, however we are always looking for new ways in which we can support our patients on their journey,” Peter said.

Follow Up Data

  • 1 in 10 Australians with epilepsy will experience a seizure-related injury each year
  • 1 in 3 Australians living with epilepsy will sustain a seizure-related injury in their lifetime
  • The most common injuries include serious head injury, water immersion, accident while driving, burns, fractures and broken bones plus dental-related injuries.
  • 0ver 50 per cent of seizure-related injuries will prove dangerous to the head and brain (Australian Journal of Pharmacy)
  • People with epilepsy die at three times the rate of the general population and at an average age of 52, compared to the average life expectancy of 80 to 84 years of age (Epilepsy Tasmania)
  • In young adults, epilepsy is now the third most common health condition after diabetes, asthma, and is one of the top five avoidable causes of death among five to 29-year-olds.
  • A study from the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (JAACAP) found young adults with chronic medical conditions (CMCs), including congenital heart disease, diabetes and epilepsy often develop anxiety disorders as a result of their illness.
  • When a patient meets diagnostic criteria for least one mental health condition and one chronic medical condition it is known as ‘mental-physical comorbidity’ where the outcomes of the disease can significantly worsen.

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