People living with epilepsy have higher rates of autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and depression than other adults. At the same time, people living with autism, ADHD, or depression seem to have a higher risk of epileptic seizures.
Although the reasons aren’t clearly understood, epilepsy seems to be linked with many mental health issues.
There seem to be similar changes in brain function among these conditions. It’s also possible that the abnormal electrical activity from epilepsy can affect certain areas of the brain and cause behaviors common to ADHD, depression, and autism.
Epilepsy and Depression
Living with seizures is tough. It’s common to experience sadness, frustration, anger, and even embarrassment. People with epilepsy tend to have a higher risk of developing depression. And people with depression have a higher chance of developing epilepsy.
Seizure and antiepileptic medicines may play a role in developing depression because they can affect the mood centers of the brain. A brain injury that puts someone at risk of epilepsy can injure or affect these mood centers, which may also play a role in depression.
Treatment for both conditions can be tricky. Therapy or counseling may be a first step in treating depression.
Epilepsy and ADHD
Adults living with epilepsy are more likely to have ADHD symptoms. In one large survey, about 18% of respondents with epilepsy had ADHD symptoms, compared with just over 4% of adults without it.
People with epilepsy and ADHD tend to have higher rates of depression and anxiety. Given that depression and anxiety are common triggers for seizures, it’s possible these conditions also could increase the frequency of seizures. Researchers are trying to find the connections between these conditions and epilepsy. They also are working to find ways for adults to better manage ADHD when they also suffer from epileptic seizures.
Epilepsy and Autism Spectrum Disorder
Although there is no possible mechanism for autism to cause epilepsy, research is showing that the two conditions are closely linked. About 20% of people living with autism spectrum disorder also have epilepsy, and about 20% of people living with epilepsy also have autism spectrum disorder. Epilepsy in patients with autism is often caused by underlying factors — genetic and environmental — that lead to both conditions.
Epilepsy Mental Health
If you have epilepsy and signs of depression or ADHD, talk to your doctor. Together, you can find a treatment plan to help you manage seizures as well as your mental and emotional health. For more information on epilepsy treatment options, visit the UPMC Comprehensive Epilepsy Center.