About 12% of people with epilepsy experience suicidal thoughts at some point in their life. Among children and teens, the rate is as high as 20%. Compared with the general population, people with epilepsy are more likely to attempt suicide, and they are also more likely to succeed. Depression, anxiety, stressful situations and access to firearms may also play a role.
Insights gained from a recent analysis of online discussions of epilepsy may help those who love and care for people with epilepsy lower the risk of suicide. In the largest such study ever conducted, researchers used big-data analytics to collect anonymized conversations about epilepsy posted on various websites in the U.S. during a 12-month period spanning 2017 and 2018. Highlights were presented at the 2019 World Congress of Psychiatry, and the full study was published in the journal Epilepsia.
The analysis provided a glimpse into people’s thoughts and feelings as expressed in 220,000 online conversations about epilepsy. About 20% of the posts were from teens, with the rest from adults. The sheer volume of the posts revealed that the internet provides an important outlet for people coping with epilepsy. It also brought to light the enormity of the need for digitally delivered information and support. Transparency and open communication are important for suicide prevention, and online resources can play an important role.
A parent’s first instinct may be to try to shield their teenager with epilepsy from online information about difficult topics such as suicide. But from the digital conversations analyzed online, it is clear that teens are avidly searching for information about many aspects of epilepsy. Eight percent of teens discussed suicide in their posts, and almost a third sought online support. Thirty percent of teens voiced concern about the social consequences of seizures, and almost two-thirds expressed feeling “fear of the unknown.” These emotional burdens can be lightened by increased access to high-quality digital information and support, in addition to parental guidance and counseling.
Adults with epilepsy also discussed suicide in their posts, brought up the social consequences of seizures and sought online support, although somewhat less often than teens. On the other hand, adults were more likely to voice concerns about physical impairment and injury from seizures, and to express feelings of hopelessness while still trying to cope. One of the greatest differences between age groups was in the severity of hopeless feelings. More than 40% of adults indicated that they had “given up,” compared with 4% of teens. Since hopelessness and suicide can go hand in hand, recognizing and addressing these feelings must be a major goal, especially in adults.
Here are steps you can take to reduce the risk for suicide and help your loved one cope with the emotional challenges of epilepsy:
— Ask your loved one’s physician for personalized guidance to find accurate and reliable online resources. You may wish to become familiar with the recommended sites yourself so you can follow up with informed discussion.
— Make it a priority to address emotional concerns with your loved one openly and regularly. Touch base periodically with specific questions about feelings of sadness, fear, hopelessness or stress.
— If it seems that depression or anxiety may be playing a role, encourage your loved one to discuss this with their doctor.
— If your loved one is having suicidal thoughts, seek urgent help at an emergency room.
Source: U.S. News