Epilepsy Linked to Anxiety, Suicidality in Young Adults

Heidi Splete

May 25, 2021

Young adults with epilepsy experience higher rates of anxiety, depression, and suicidality, compared with their counterparts in the general population, a new study shows.

The findings, based on a study of 144 young adults with epilepsy (YAWE), was published recently in Epilepsy & Behavior.

"People with epilepsy (PWE) are at a significantly higher risk of experiencing mental health difficulties, compared with healthy controls and individuals with other [long-term conditions] such as asthma and diabetes," according to Rachel Batchelor, MSc, and Michelle D. Taylor, PhD, of the University of London (England) in Surrey.

Young adulthood, which encompasses people aged 18-25 years, has been identified as "a peak age of onset for anxiety and depression," but mental health in young adults with epilepsy in particular has not been well studied, they wrote.

In the study, Batchelor and Taylor reviewed results of an online survey of 144 young adults with epilepsy aged 18-25 years. The survey measured current mental health symptoms, including anxiety, depression, and suicidality, as well as sociodemographic and epilepsy-related factors, coping strategies, and social support (Epilepsy Behav. 2021 May;118:107911. doi: 10.1016/j.yebeh.2021.107911).

The average age of the respondents was 21.6 years, 61% were female, and 88% were of White British ethnicity. A total of 88 participants were single, 48 were in a relationship, and 8 were married or engaged. About one-third (38%) worked full-time, and 28.5% were full-time university students, 18.8% worked part-time, and 8.3% were unemployed and not students. The average age of seizure onset was 12.4 years.

Overall, 116 (80.6%) of the survey respondents met the criteria for anxiety, 110 (76.4%) for depression, and 51 (35.4%) for suicidality.

Ratings of all three of these conditions were significantly higher in females, compared with males, the researchers noted. Anxiety, depression, and suicidality also were rated higher for individuals who waited more than 1 year vs. less than 1 year for an epilepsy diagnosis from the time of seizure onset, for those suffering from anti-seizure medication side effects vs. no side effects, and for those with comorbid conditions vs. no comorbid conditions.

Avoidant-focused coping strategies were positively correlated with anxiety, depression, and suicidality, while problem-focused coping and meaning-focused coping were negatively correlated, the researchers said. In addition, those who reported greater levels of support from friends had lower rates of anxiety and depression, and those who reported greater levels of support from family had lower rates of suicidality.

The study findings were limited by several factors, including the relatively homogenous population, and the absence of data on current anxiety and depression medications and additional professional support, the researchers noted.

However, the results extend the research on mental health in people with epilepsy, and the study is the first known to focus on the young adult population with epilepsy, they said.

"The high rates of anxiety, depression, and suicidality underscore the need for better integration of mental health provision into epilepsy care," the researchers wrote. "While it would be premature to base recommendations for treating anxiety, depression, and suicidality in YAWE on the current study, investigating the efficacy of psychological interventions (for example, [acceptance and commitment therapy], [compassion-focused therapy], peer support, and family-based [therapy]) designed to address the psychosocial variables shown to independently predict mental health outcomes in YAWE would be worthy future research avenues," they concluded.

The study received no outside funding, and the researchers disclosed no financial conflicts.

This article originally appeared on MDedge.com, part of the Medscape Professional Network.


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