Epilepsy Talk

Suicide and Epilepsy | August 23, 2019

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 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.

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. Great article. We need neurologists to become aware of how epilepsy changes a person’s life and how this lowers a person’s mood, self esteem and places so many limitations. Seizure control medications turn you into a zombie, rob you of your libido and it’s very hard to discuss this with your doctor. They’re only concerned with limiting the number of seizures. I’d like to know how many patients who have been diagnosed with epilepsy also suffer fro depression. I think the two go hand in hand.

    Liked by 2 people

    Comment by Ana Fernandez — August 23, 2019 @ 6:02 PM

    • One study stated that 80% of patients with epilepsy were also diagnosed as having a depressive disorder.

      Upwards of 60% of these individuals had a history of significant episodes of depression.

      And 10-32% experience symptoms of anxiety.

      Not too reassuring, is it?

      And for those whose epilepsy cannot be controlled by meds, the likelihood of depression and anxiety are even greater.

      In fact, many of the medications used to treat seizure disorders can trigger depression.

      Dilantin, Phenobarbatol, Celonton and Tegretol are all notorious for this side effect.


      Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — August 23, 2019 @ 6:30 PM

  2. I always appreciate your posts, even when it is bad news. Awareness is the first step to improvement.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Flower Roberts — August 23, 2019 @ 9:49 PM

  3. And I suppose you could say that knowledge is power!


    Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — August 23, 2019 @ 10:01 PM

  4. IT’S HAPPENING AGAIN. I spent 5 to 10 minutes typing a GOOD comment, all for nothing as it did not record or save my comment.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by jcdavis@hardynet.com — August 23, 2019 @ 10:21 PM

    • People in the general society need to be more accepting of epilepsy and the difficulties it can/does bring on in a persons life. And therefore help them with many issues. Accept it, brighten up your life- don’t blame you or turn away and leave you suffering. I only make friends with people with epilepsy otherwise I’m a loner. Feel suicidal off and on over life- very sad and terrifying? What do I do?

      Liked by 1 person

      Comment by keri teavae — August 30, 2019 @ 6:50 PM

  5. Oh shit. I feel your pain.

    It’s happened to me with 3 paragraphs at a time.


    Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — August 23, 2019 @ 10:25 PM

  6. http://www.druglib.com/reported-side-effects/carbamazepine/reaction_completed_suicide/

    Too many deaths from Anti-convulsants.

    I was one of the fortunate one’s,I survived.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Berenice John — August 24, 2019 @ 5:13 AM

  7. Phylis,
    Thank you for another enlightening article, again.
    From personal experience, having epileptic seizures for the first time in your life, watching your normal ordinary life rapidly shatter, your dreams & aspirations disappearing like a mist, day after day every time the seizures keep striking to only hold on to the pills & side effects you never knew about nor heard before to the medical jargons coming from your neurologist you have to decipher & the dramatic nightmares of waking up in hospital bed you’ve never asked for nor planned to spent the day/night,,, the fast traumatic journey can be so depressing, it takes a whole lot more than pills to survive the shock.
    Having strong support system, psychiatric assistance, family & friends standing by your bed explaining the unfortunate predicament in simple English layman terms than hospital pamphlets & medical jargons does make the coping process more smoother & attainable.
    After all, Epilepsy is as much as neurological disorder, it’s psychological trauma.
    It’s pleasing to note that the medical researchers & establishments have come to realize & incorporate the psychiatric impact of epileptic seizures in society.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by BahreNegash Eritrea — August 24, 2019 @ 5:49 AM

    • I’m one of the lucky ones.

      When push came to shove, my neurologist and psychiatrist, worked hand-in-hand to help me in my darkest hours.

      It made all the difference in the world.

      More than anything else except, of course, my friends and loved ones who stuck by me through it all.

      I’m a lucky girl.


      Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — August 24, 2019 @ 9:16 AM

      • I’m happy for you that you’re lucky enough to have very strong support system to overcome the shacking trauma of epileptic seizures.
        Pushed aside to figure it out by themselves, I’m NOT so sure for certain that too many victims of Epilepsy can say that they’re fortunate to have some kind of support system.
        Just last week, I witnessed & strongly intervened, watching a homeless man having grandmal seizures in public transportation being mistreated by the “rescue crew”, presumed blacking out from too much alcohol or illegal drugs, the crew who supposedly came to help & support the unconscious man, standing on top of the helpless man & asking “does anynody know this guy”, instead of reaching out for medical identification or prescription pills in the man’s possession, makes it too obvious that society needs to know a lot more about Epilepsy than just carrying out the unconscious man in ambulance bed.
        It’s long over due for Epilepsy to come out from the shadows of society just like any medical hardship for the whole world to know & support the victins of seizures.
        Your forum is certainly appreciated for carrying out the mission, spreading the light over Epilepsy & expanding the desperately needed support to victims of Epilepsy.

        Liked by 1 person

        Comment by BahreNegash Eritrea — August 24, 2019 @ 2:51 PM

      • Gerrie on the other hand — in the “it takes one to know one” department — my friend Mary Ann (who also has epilepsy) and I came across a homeless woman on a train platform in Penn Station.

        She was having a tonic clonic and was inches from the edge of the platform. And the train tracks.

        Of course, everybody stopped to watch the freak show. And nobody did a thing.

        We called for an ambulance. A porter came.

        I screamed for the station master, the police, EMTs, anyone who would or could come to assist this poor women.

        (Of course we did the traditional first aid, but were also terrified as her eyes rolled to the back of her head.)

        Eventually the STATION MASTER came. Took in the situation. Called the police, who called an ambulance.

        It’s a miracle that the poor woman wasn’t dead by then.

        The other miracle is that an ambulance came from NYU Langone Epilepsy Center. (One of the finest in the world.)

        And despite her protests (she was homeless after all) they got her on a gurney and off to the hospital.

        Mary Ann and I just about seized ourselves from the stress!


        Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — August 24, 2019 @ 4:28 PM

  8. How do the the newly-diagnosed for epilepsy suicide statistics compare to patients newly diagnosed for Type 1 diabetes for example?

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Stephen Smith — August 24, 2019 @ 6:22 AM

  9. Being diagnosed with epilepsy (as with most other disabilities) may get you medical treatment, but it also gets you lowered social status and stigma. This can cause what is called “disenfranchised grief” or “ambiguous grief.” If there’s no way to mourn your loss, you express it as best you can, sometimes with suicidal thoughts. It can help to have someone who can listen to you and validate your feeling of anger at the unfairness. Not fix, just validate.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by HoDo — August 26, 2019 @ 12:17 PM

    • Many people seek therapists and support groups to validate their emotions of grief, fear, anger, sadness along with the stigma and sense of worthlessness.

      And the notion of suicide “ideation” is very real.

      I’ve been lucky. I have a therapist who is worth his weight in gold.


      Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — August 26, 2019 @ 12:55 PM

  10. Those who are newly diagnosed with epilepsy, as with other disabilities, are faced with what’s called “ambiguous grief.” Yes, you have a diagnosis. Yes, you may have access to good medical care. But you have also lost significant social status. Grief is appropriate, and if it isn’t given attention, the result can be suicidal thoughts. A good listener is essential. Not a fixer, a listener. Someone who can validate your feelings. I speak from experience. It took 50 years and a lot of suicidal thoughts to find that good listener.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by HoDo — August 26, 2019 @ 1:02 PM

  11. I’m happy to be on Gabapentin for seizures, since it also is used as an anxiety suppressor as well. When i first started to have seizures, 13 yrs ago after the removal of a brain tumor, my life was never the same after. My coming to grips with both those was the internet, i research everything they had on seizures and brain tumors. Like Phylis said, knowledge is power and the more u know the easier it is to cope with i think. It can be hell, living and knowing u could have a seizure at any time.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Zolt — August 27, 2019 @ 12:52 AM

  12. I’m glad that the Gabapentin has that duo effect. And that you don’t suffer (per se).

    The diagnosis of epilepsy is a shock to the system — in all ways.

    But I congratulate you for being so proactive. Rather than taking the other route.

    Zolt, you are someone to be admired. And I do.


    Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — August 27, 2019 @ 10:56 AM

  13. I was suicdal on Dilantin. If my dad didnt stop me i wouldn’t be alive now.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by RUSTY Hanawalt — October 30, 2019 @ 12:00 AM

    • It’s good that you’ve a caring father who’s actively involved in your wellbeing.
      It has been said, the family that prays together, stays together.
      Unfortunately, most of the people who end up committing suicide, most likely do NOT had strong family support system who ought to have been reaching out & activity involved in alleviating the ordeals & hardships of the victims of Epilepsy, coping with the sudden dramatic changes in their lives.
      Thank you for sharing your experience with aftermat

      Liked by 1 person

      Comment by BahreNegash Eritrea — October 30, 2019 @ 6:00 AM

      • * Thank you for sharing your experience, the aftermath of coping with seizures, medication side effects & the potential risks for suicide.

        Liked by 1 person

        Comment by BahreNegash Eritrea — October 30, 2019 @ 6:05 AM

      • When it seems the world is against you (perception equals reality), you can tend to fell worthless yourself.

        Why are you here? What does it matter?

        And sometimes it’s better to die in life than to live in death.


        Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — October 30, 2019 @ 9:03 AM

      • Yes, it’s difficult to navigate through strong storms.
        But life is full of tornados, storms, earthquakes, war, destruction, disease, poverty, daily hurdles,,, therefore NAVIGATING through & overcoming these calamities & adversities takes a whole lot more strength in the willpower to live than prescription drugs.

        “I use to cry because I had no shoes, until I saw a man who had no legs”.
        Mark Twain

        Liked by 1 person

        Comment by BahreNegash Eritrea — October 30, 2019 @ 2:10 PM

      • Gerrie, that Mark Twain quote is one of my favorites.

        And you’re right, the adversity was stronger than any drug could handle.

        I had to handle it and navigate my way through. But, I couldn’t SEE my way through the thunderstorms and the highest waves swept me away.


        Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — October 30, 2019 @ 3:18 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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