Epilepsy is a serious condition that affects tens of millions of people around the world. It does not have a cure and it can drastically affect the way a person lives. It is no wonder that depression happens to be the top psychiatric comorbidity in epilepsy patients. Studies have shown that an alarming number of epilepsy sufferers – between 20% and 30% – are dealing with depression. This number could be more than 50% of people who are visiting hospital epilepsy centers.
Having depression that goes untreated tends to be associated with other factors. These include having a lower quality of life, not adhering to treatments, and higher utilization of health care. In addition, the risk of suicide increases by 30 times more than the average. While this sounds like it would be a major problem that more doctors and patients were talking about, depression often goes undetected in these patients. In a recent study out of Texas, 192 people who visited an epilepsy clinic were screened and were later diagnosed with depression. 65% of those people had never had any history of depression before.
The subject was talked about in several discussions at the International Epilepsy Congress in Bangkok in June 2019, which helped to get more people to start recognizing the seriousness of the problem. They talked about the importance that epileptologists play in identifying depression and helping patients to manage it better.
The International League Against Epilepsy created a minimum standard to go along with the new epileptology curriculum. Their goals are to improve the recognition of psychiatric comorbidities, including depression. It also includes standards on properly managing and advising regarding these comorbidities, and the need to adjust the seizure treatments.
However, even though the specialists are starting to make changes, there is still relatively little known when it comes to putting it all into practice. Many specialists are still not conducting any screenings for depression in their offices, which could mean they are missing out on helping a large number of patients. If the previous studies hold to be true, half of their patients could be suffering.
Why No Screenings?
There are different reasons given by neurologists when they explain why they have not been providing screenings for depression. In some cases, they say that there is not enough time to provide screenings for the patients. Other times, they believe that it is not their role to provide the screening at all. More and more, though, specialists are starting to realize that they have a better chance of identifying depression in these patients. They also are starting to realize that they could start to initiate treatment for the patients to help them to improve their quality of life.
This area is still somewhat in flux as different neurologists have differing viewpoints. Listening to the patients can be a huge start, though. Those who listen to the types of statements the patients are making, and who listen to their loved ones, are more likely to pick up on signs of depression.
Whenever a doctor believes that a patient is depressed or suicidal, they should intervene and offer help and services. While they might not be a specialist in the field of psychology, they can still provide help and ensure the patient talks to those who can provide them with further counseling and medication if needed.
Having epilepsy means that peoples’ entire lives change. They are not able to do the things that they once did or want to start doing. It can be a lonely experience because there is still a stigma attached to it. As more and more doctors start to take this seriously, they can hopefully help more patients.