There was a time when epilepsy was not clearly distinguished from
psychiatric disorders. Researchers eventually clarified the origins of
epilepsy in the brain. Still, epileptic seizures are a brain
malfunction, and so are major depression, anxiety disorders, and
psychoses. While epilepsy is no longer considered a psychiatric
disorder, its psychiatric dimension is important for treatment and
research, reports the May issue of the Harvard Mental Health Letter.
symptoms of simple epileptic seizures can be mistaken for psychiatric
symptoms such as panic attacks or flashbacks. Psychiatric symptoms may
also resemble epilepsy. An examination to determine whether there is
epileptic brain activity is the best method for making the correct
“But the connection between
epilepsy and psychiatric disorders involves more than overlapping
symptoms and mistaken diagnoses,” says Dr. Michael Miller, editor in
chief of the Harvard Mental Health Letter. “More than a
quarter of people with epilepsy have psychological symptoms that may
require treatment, and up to 10% of patients in psychiatric hospitals
have epilepsy,” he says. Sometimes psychiatric symptoms are a reaction
to epilepsy. But dysfunction in the same brain structures may cause
both the seizures themselves as well as changes in mood and thinking
between seizures. And treatments that are helpful for epilepsy are
frequently helpful for psychiatric disorders.
people with epilepsy are not diagnosed with or treated for psychiatric
disorders. One reason is that the symptoms may not look typical.
Another reason is that some doctors are not convinced that psychiatric
drugs will work for patients with epilepsy. And some psychiatric drugs
increase the risk of seizures. The Harvard Mental Health Letter
notes that as the research paths of psychiatry and neurology converge,
the understanding and treatment of epilepsy-related depression,
anxiety, and psychoses should improve.