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Epilepsy and depression

It is not unusual for all children to feel sad or worried occasionally, but if this continues for more than 2-3 weeks, you should talk to the child’s doctor.

Depression is more common in children with epilepsy and may be caused by a combination of factors including:

  • Having unpredictable seizures, or experiencing feelings of loss of control due to seizures.
  • Feeling ‘different’, especially if there are restrictions to their social life.
  • Experiencing negative attitudes towards having epilepsy, including bullying at school.
  • Living within stressful family relationships.
  • Changes in mood relating to seizure activity.
  • Side effects of antiepileptic drugs.
  • Having a family history of depression.

When adults are depressed they tend to appear sad and withdrawn. When children are depressed this may present itself in a variety of different ways.

If you think a child may be suffering from depression, talk to them about how they are feeling. This is not always easy, but well worth trying because the earlier that depression is treated the better.

Discuss your worries with the child's GP, paediatrician or epilepsy care team. If depression is not recognised and treated, it may have a bigger impact on their quality of life than epilepsy.

Some signs of depression in children include:

  • Appearing anxious, unhappy or increased tearfulness.
  • Irritability, anger and hostility.
  • Frequent complaints of physical illness e.g. headaches, stomach aches which cause multiple absences from school.
  • Difficulty in getting to sleep, or staying asleep, which results in excessive tiredness.
  • Increased sensitivity to rejection and failure.
  • Withdrawal from friends or activities resulting in their social isolation.
  • Increased or decreased appetite, or other eating problems.
  • Difficulties with concentration resulting in a lowering of academic standards at school.
  • Self destructive behaviour or expressing a wish to commit suicide.

Once it has been identified, depression can be treated effectively. It may be that counselling, psychotherapy or family therapy will help or, in some cases, antidepressant medication may be prescribed. Find out more about antidepressant at Electronic Medicines Compendium.

If the doctor feels that the child will benefit from counselling, this can be arranged on the National Health Service. If you would like to see a counsellor privately, ask their doctor to recommend someone who is used to counselling children with similar problems.

Helpline

If you're worried about your mental health, we would advise contacting Mind, who provide advice and support to anyone experiencing a mental health problem. They are contactable on 0300 123 3393 or text 86463. If you would like to talk specifically about epilepsy, please contact Young Epilepsy helpline on 01342 831 342 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Helpline: 01342 831342 (Mon-Fri, 9am-3pm)
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Star Fact!

In the UK 1,150 people died of epilepsy related causes in 2009.

Cyber EssentialsFundraising RegulatorYoung Epilepsy is the operating name of The National Centre for Young People with Epilepsy (NCYPE).
Registered Charity number 311877 (England and Wales)

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