Epilepsy Talk

Suicide and Epilepsy | June 12, 2016

The statistics are depressing. (Which is one of the chief factors in suicide.) But studies say that suicide can happen to anyone at any age.


Studies show that newly diagnosed epilepsy patients are more than five times more likely to commit suicide than patients who had been diagnosed more than six months previously.

And a 29-fold increase in suicide risk was seen in newly diagnosed patients with a history of psychiatric illness.

“Newly diagnosed patients often have many misconceptions about the disease,” researcher Per Sidenius, MD, of Aarhus University says. “They often don’t understand that there are good treatments with few side effects.”

Researchers from Columbia University also reported an increased risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviors in patients who later developed epilepsy.

Among the risk factors contributing to suicidal behavior are surgery (suicide tendency is five times higher than patients taking AEDs), absence of seizures for a long time, especially after being very frequent, and psychiatric conditions such as major depression, anxiety-depression disorders, personality disorders, and substance abuse.

People with both epilepsy and a psychiatric illness were nearly 14 times more likely to commit suicide than people with neither condition.

A history of depression increased the risk of epilepsy, but the startling finding was that people with epilepsy were 4 times more likely to have attempted suicide before ever having a seizure, even after other factors were taken into account like drinking alcohol, having depression, age, and gender.

“There is an underlying joint susceptibility to suicide attempts and epilepsy, and it can’t be ignored, because epilepsy in general is more than just seizures,” Dr. Dale Hesdorffer of Columbia University in New York City, told Reuters Health in a telephone interview.

It’s a life or death issue

“Increasingly, clinicians treating people with epilepsy ask about current depression, but they may not ask about past suicide attempt or suicidal thoughts,” said Hesdorffer. “Our results may alert clinicians to the need to ask this question and offer any needed counseling.”

Researcher Dr Jakob Christensen said: “There may be a number of factors that have a major impact on the wellbeing of people with chronic disorders such as epilepsy.”

“We know that epilepsy lowers the overall quality of life of the affected individuals — especially shortly after the diagnosis is given.

“An epilepsy diagnosis affects important parts of people’s lives: job opportunities disappear, patients usually lose their driver’s license, drug treatment may decrease fertility, and pregnancy is associated with an increased risk of congenital malformations of the newborn child.

“The latter may be part of the explanation of why the impact of epilepsy with regard to suicide seems greatest in women.”

In fact, women with epilepsy and a history of psychiatric disease were 23 times more likely to commit suicide than women without either condition, compared with a tenfold increase in risk among men with epilepsy and psychiatric illness.

Medication and the mind

Also, a new study, appearing in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, has determined that some epilepsy drugs increase the risk for suicide.

People using newer drugs with a higher risk of causing depression such as Keppra, Topamax and Sabril, were three times more likely to harm themselves or attempt suicide than those who were not currently taking any epilepsy drugs.

In contrast, some new drugs have a low risk of causing depression and conventional epilepsy drugs didn’t have any increased risk of self-harm or suicidal behavior.

These groups include drugs such as Lamictal, Neurontin, Tegretol, Depakote and Dilantin.

Since depression reigns supreme, people with both epilepsy and a psychiatric illness were nearly 14 times more likely to commit suicide than people with neither condition.

“Psychological problems, including suicidal thoughts and behaviors, are often not addressed by neurologists who treat epilepsy patients,” Dr. Hesdorffer told Reuters Health. “Many are not comfortable with talking about psychiatric disorders and with talking about suicide attempts.”

“One way to improve management of epilepsy would be for neurologists and psychiatrists to work together to treat patients, which is beginning to happen,” she added. “That will be a fantastic partnership if it continues to develop. It’s at its very early stages now.”

“Physicians, treating patients with epilepsy need to develop collaborations with mental health professionals in order to provide comprehensive treatment to their epilepsy patients.”


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  1. Good Morning/Afternoon Phylis,

    AJ here again who lost his Fraternal Twin Brother Allan from a seizure here in Southern California.

    This is an excellent article & thank you very much for sharing it with us all.

    My Twin was affected with Depression & I discovered after his death & cleaning out his home & personal effects I found inside his Bible Business Cards from the Suicide Prevention Center. He had called me just prior to our Annual Thanksgiving Dinner that he was in very Poor Health & he passed away 1 day before Thanksgiving. I am almost 100% sure that his Neurologist at the VA Medical Center in Loma Linda, CA never asked him about any ideas of suicide. He had been seeing a Psychiatrist though & wonder if that topic was ever discussed during his visits? Quite possibly not because my brother was a very prideful & kind human being & most likely kept it to himself. So readers out there with Epilepsy or those loved ones around you….PLEASE ask them to openly discuss these thoughts & hopefully intervention can ward off such drastic action . I just wish & prayed I was more informed on some of the negative ramifications of being diagnosed with Epilepsy & quite possibly my Twin would still be here ….because I MISS him dearly.

    Wishing You Well Phylis on this Sunday…may God Bless You & ALL of your subscribers out there.

    AL “AJ” Johnson
    Ontario, California

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by AL "AJ" Johnson — June 12, 2016 @ 2:00 PM

    • AJ, I too, had and have been seeing a psychiatrist. Suicide was my dirty little secret.

      When my mother became (temporarily) homeless with vodka her best friend — followed by Arthur becoming chronically ill — I couldn’t keep my little secret any longer.

      I overdosed on some some non compatible meds (Wellbutrin) and went swiftly into the night.

      Luckily, I was found, which led to the ER, two heart attacks and life support. It was a very long road back. And not very pretty.

      God bless you. And your twin.


      Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — June 12, 2016 @ 3:04 PM

  2. I know what,s it,s like to try suicide I tryed it 4 times .I terifed of my mom, at 27 they found out I was over med. by 14 differnt pills, my mom was abuseive it the time. and I didn,t know suicide wasn,t the answer. I saw 6 or 7 contsers


    Comment by michele metzger — June 12, 2016 @ 2:26 PM

  3. The concept of Neurologists and mental health professionals working together should have started decades ago! I was in total shock ( figuratively and literally) when I had my first seizure, and found the Neurologists ( I went to several) totally disregarding the psychological aspect of the disorder. I even remember telling my first Neurologist “shouldn’t you be referring people to short term therapy?” His answer was ” not enough would come.” You are to be commended, Phylis, for bringing up the very important issue of suicide, and your own dealings with it. The fact that someone with Epilepsy would be so desperate as to want to end their life, means that more needs to be done NOW to help people, and not just by doing yoga or sleeping well.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Susan — June 13, 2016 @ 7:01 PM

    • LOL. Yoga and sleeping well, won’t keep you alive!

      But a good relationship with your therapist (if you’re lucky enough to have one) and your neuro is the best of both worlds.

      I was lucky. My neurologist saved my life and my psychiatrist was there every day, guiding my husband all the way.

      Needless to say, Arthur was in worse shape than me. I was in an induced coma!


      Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — June 13, 2016 @ 7:46 PM

  4. A very good response Susan to Phylis’s article/blog on the topic of Suicide & the correlation to Epilepsy.

    I would like to make a very important suggestion & that was after my Fraternal Twin Brother passed away at the young age of 62 I noticed after having to go to his home to gather his belongings I noticed that about 1 week prior to his death he had NOT taken any of his Seizure medications & not being a physician, but using simple logic will always feel he was on a clear path of suicide, which unfortunately claimed his life. His death certificate clearly states cause of death was an epileptic seizure. Please forgive me for writing so graphically with my Twin’s passing, but everyone out there PLEASE keep an idea on your’s or your Loved One’s Medications to ensure they don;t skip taking them..either consciously or unconsciously.

    Wishing everyone out there a Wonderful Week & thank you so much for all of the lives you’ve touched through your newsletter Phylis. Also, my heart goes out to you for the personal story you shared with me in a past email. God Bless You & Your Family.

    AJ Johnson
    Ontario, California
    Email: ajgoflnut5@gmail.com

    P.S. If anyone out there reading my comments who has lost a Twin Brother or Sister , I would love to correspond with you via our emails. Thank You.


    Comment by AL "AJ" Johnson — June 13, 2016 @ 7:20 PM

  5. Skipping your medication is right up there with overdosing, like I did.

    The intent is still there but the outcome (suicide) is more dramatic. 😦


    Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — June 13, 2016 @ 7:50 PM

  6. Phylis, my question to you is what could have helped prevent you, or someone like AJ’s brother from such desperate acts? Where were Neurologists, other Doctor’s, the EFA, teachers or family and friends? Where were these people and why didn’t they reach out? I realize teachers are busy and friends and family can be scared or wary, so then, it is the responsibility of the medical professionals to take a more holistic approach to people with Epilepsy and not just treat the physical illness. They do with Cancer patients. How about doing some research on various forms of psychotherapy and it’s effects on people with E.?


    Comment by Susan — June 14, 2016 @ 8:02 PM

    • I’m not so sure if people take epilepsy as seriously as they should, unless they see what they can recognize as a a seizure. Otherwise, whatever they see is the punchline to a joke. But it’s not funny, nor is it an excuse for anything. When I had colon cancer, I went out only if necessary for an appointment, and the baggy clothes hid my temporary ostomy bag. But how do you tell if someone has epilepsy? Unless they broke a bone, you don’t. As if everything else weren’t bad enough…we get all of that.


      Comment by catsissie — May 7, 2019 @ 3:22 PM

      • Catsissie, that’s why I call epilepsy the stealth “disease”.

        It’s there lurking like an invisible cloud over your head. But no one sees it unless it rains. (And sometimes not even then.)


        Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — May 7, 2019 @ 4:21 PM

  7. Good Evening Phylis,

    I would like to thank Susan for her comments about healthcare professionals NEED to work on not only the physical effects of patients with Epilepsy, but also very importantly the psychological support patients need. I do know my Twin Allan did see his neurologist saw him fairly often, but the psychiatrist rarely would see him, except to refill his RX’s! I truly believe since my brother was visiting doctors at the VA in Loma Linda, CA & the backlog for proper & immediate care is horrific & I certainly hope whoever our next President will REVAMP the VA & fire several individuals who don’t care about we Veterans ( my brother & I served in the U S Air Force & Love the United States of America). I recall vividly that the very next day after he died was scheduled to see his Neurologist, who I called, got some girl’s voice on voicemail & stated the tragic sudden loss of my brother the day before & would the doctor please give me a call back & I NEVER received a call back!

    Anyway, Susan I am in 100% agreement with your recent posting & will keep you & your family in my prayers & please feel free to contact me via my email : ajgolfnut5@gmail.com

    Good Night,

    AL “AJ” Johnson

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by AL "AJ" Johnson — June 14, 2016 @ 8:28 PM

  8. AJ, there are two kinds of psych plans. I don’t know who was paying, but one kind of coverage is 15 minutes of talk and then meds.

    The more expensive coverage is 55 minutes of talk therapy and then meds as needed at that time.

    It sounds like he was on the “med” plan only and didn’t receive real talk therapy.

    That’s the most glaring problem.

    As for the VA, it’s deplorable. These people go out and fight for our country and come home to nothing. No care, for sure.

    My bet is that the VA was covering his psych coverage which is negligible, at best.

    In short, he wasn’t receiving the kind of talk therapy he needed.


    Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — June 15, 2016 @ 9:16 AM

    • Good Morning Phylis & thank you for replying to my earlier comments about the less than adequate medical & psychological care provided to my Twin Allan.

      In retrospect I would talk with my brother a couple of times during the week on the phone & would usually drive out to visit him once a month to take him on his errands & wish I had been more proactive in possibly accompanying him for his VA visits. I will never forget or understand why his Neurologist didn’t have the common courtesy to take a few minutes out of his day to return my detailed phone message. I understand that the VA Medical Centers are understaffed & the Patient Loads are astounding, but I’ve had Management Positions with tons of responsibilities & would ALWAYS return calls if not that day the next business day..just being a professional!!

      I am still hoping that someone on your marvelous Web site will reach out to me who has lost their Twin Brother or Sister to exchange information & support one another.

      I reached out to I thought was a good buddy recently via a lengthy email & he responded with “just get over the loss of your brother”, but what is puzzling this fellow wrote a really nice comment in my brother’s Guest Book that the Crematory provides for on line comments & also attended his Full USAF Military Honors Service at the Riverside VA Cemetery ?

      I take our rescue dog ..Rocky for a walk every morning & I use this time away from the house to do a lot of soul searching & crying inwardly & outwardly because I do not want to be a burden to my wife who has a lot of medical challenges & has a very responsible job with lots of daily decisions to make.

      Anyway Phylis I assure you that I keep you in my nightly prayers that God will watch over You & Your Family & feel as though I’ve known you my entire life.

      Warmest & Kindest Regards,

      AJ Johnson
      Ontario, California


      Comment by AL "AJ" Johnson — June 15, 2016 @ 10:31 AM

  9. AJ, as you know, the VA does NOT take care of their own.

    As for the psych, when your time is up, that’s it…with the majority of them. (I consider myself lucky.)

    The same usually goes for your neuro, although he should have had at least a Physician’s Assistant to help you.

    As for the friend you reached out to, clearly he could “talk the talk, but didn’t walk the walk”

    That’s the way of so many people.

    They’re afraid, they don’t want to get involved, they “don’t have the time”.

    As Susan said: “Where were Neurologists, other Doctor’s, the EFA, teachers or family and friends?”

    Nowhere. Although we know, that deep in their deepest parts, suicide victims want to be rescued, often there’s no one around to read the subtle signs. Until the deed is done.

    I think I understand why you “do a lot of soul searching & crying inwardly & outwardly because I do not want to be a burden to my wife who has a lot of medical challenges & has a very responsible job with lots of daily decisions to make.”

    But sometimes you have to let it out.

    Whether it’s to your dog or us (what a comparison!), we’re here.

    Although we can’t replace Allan, know that this community cares.



    Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — June 15, 2016 @ 12:22 PM

  10. Hi Phylis,

    Many many thanks for your “words of encouragement” & have a joyous day & keep up your great work.

    Ontario, California


    Comment by AL "AJ"Johnson — June 15, 2016 @ 12:27 PM

  11. AJ, thanks so very much.


    Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — June 15, 2016 @ 3:07 PM

  12. Would it be fair for epilepsy patients to ask clinicians,how many suicidal epilepsy patients they have worked with.The trail/ error of medication,wears thin on the patient and insurance not the doctor.The threat of non complaint however is real.


    Comment by John shilby — September 11, 2016 @ 11:07 AM

    • Good morning John & I believe there is a correlation of suicide & epilepsy.

      Phylis is aware of my losing my Twin Brother from epilepsy, but I failed to mention that when I went to his home to gather his personal effects…in his Bible was a card for the Suicide Prevention Center. I also noticed he had not taken his medications for almost a week before his death. The autopsy didn’t show any of the drugs he was supposed to take for his epilepsy either!

      I also vividly recall my brother telling me that the VA Hospital & his physicians classified his health as “Poor” & I begged him to please ask for additional medical intervention, but to no avail sadly.

      To my last breath & not trying to sound morbid with my posting folks believe my Twin was scared of having another seizure, passing out in public as he had done before & just gave up.

      As you’re hearing regarding our Homeland Security “If you see something say something”, this also is paramount with family members or your friends who have been diagnosed with epilepsy…PLEASE intervention may just spare a life.

      Today is 911 & please say a prayer for the thousands of lives we as Americans lost because of those horrible terrorists…15 in all I believe responsible for the Twin Towers & Pentagon tragedies .

      AL “AJ” Johnson
      Ontario, California
      Email: ajgolfnut5@gmail.com

      Liked by 1 person

      Comment by Al "AJ" Johnson — September 11, 2016 @ 11:31 AM

  13. AJ, I can’t think of a more eloquent explanation.

    I do not feel the “fault” lies with the doctor. Suicide is an individual’s perception of no hope. Life is not worth living. Death is more reliable.

    I remember saying to someone: “I’d rather live in death, than die in life.” And that’s what I believed at the time.


    Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — September 11, 2016 @ 1:44 PM

  14. I was diagnosed with cancer i fall close to 7 months, my friend halper leo visited me and introduce me to Dr V.brahma magic temple herbal home that he can cure me I never believe because I have spend so much money on different doctors she advice me to try him because he cured her too on her Cancer disease. so I mailed him, he welcome me and I complain to him about my illness, he said to me I am in the right place. today Dr V.brahma magic temple the opoto 1 of west africa the sia of the whole world cured me with a herbs medicine, all i did was to order for the herbs, he sent it to me through courier delivery services and ask me to drink it for a period of four weeks, but before the completion of the 4th week i was totally cured,I’m so happy. thanks you doctor. I share this because I care about you all too because he said, he also have herbs for all kind of illness including HIV/AIDS, ASTHMA, CANCER, DIABETIC 1&2, GONORRHEA BARRENNESS, IMPOTENCE, WOMB DAMAGE, HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE, EPILEPSY,PREGNANCY etc. He is also a spell caster, he cast spell to bringback Ex lover and many other stuff he is capable of. Email him right now via: (V.brahma_cure.net.uk@outlook.com) thank you Doctor i can never stop thanking you.now i have to marry. I’m telling the world about you sir. thank you so much.


    Comment by Zunker — October 16, 2016 @ 12:07 PM

  15. Zunker, thank you for sharing your amazing experience and the link to this incredible doctor.


    Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — October 16, 2016 @ 2:28 PM

  16. I have had Epilepsy for 4 years or more likely but never diagnosed until I was 72. Only been Epilim Chrono 300 tablets but had an allergic reaction on 29 th. Tab. Waited day and night for out of Hours Doctor. Toungue very swollen could not eat or drink and 8 days to see doctor. For follow-up appointment.


    Comment by John Thompson — February 8, 2017 @ 4:45 PM

  17. Have you seen the doctor? Have your meds changed?

    If you’re considering a second opinion or another doctor, this may help:

    It’s a compilation by website forum members who have had positive personal experiences with docs over the years.

    2017 Patient Recommendations for TOP Neurologists…Epileptologists… Neurosurgeons…and Pediatric Doctors


    Good luck. I hope everything is resolved.


    Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — February 8, 2017 @ 5:23 PM

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    About the author

    Phylis Feiner Johnson

    Phylis Feiner Johnson

    I've been a professional copywriter for over 35 years. I also had epilepsy for decades. My mission is advocacy; to increase education, awareness and funding for epilepsy research. Together, we can make a huge difference. If not changing the world, at least helping each other, with wisdom, compassion and sharing.

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