Teens with epilepsy were more than twice as likely as adults to talk about suicide on the Internet, an analysis of 222,000 oduicidenline posts showed.

A total of 3,200 of 41,000 posts (8%) by teens with epilepsy discussed suicide, compared with 5,800 of 181,000 posts (3%) by adults with epilepsy, reported Tatiana Falcone, MD, of the Cleveland Clinic, and colleagues, at the American Epilepsy Society annual meeting.

Almost two-thirds — 63% — of posts by teens indicated they were afraid of the unknown, compared with 12% of adults. Importantly, 77% of teen posts about suicide were on message boards or web sites devoted to epilepsy topics and only 19% were on social media, suggesting teens want anonymity when they look for information, the researchers noted.

“Parents often fear overwhelming their child by providing too much information about the characteristics of epilepsy, but if teens don’t get answers they’ll go looking online, and sometimes that information is not correct or is incomplete,” Falcone said in a statement. “It’s important that teens know there is always hope, that knowledge is power and that the more they know, the better they can take care of themselves and their epilepsy.”

The analysis also suggests teens may worry when they don’t understand new epilepsy symptoms or experience changes in seizure patterns, and this worry may perpetuate stress and contribute to depression or suicidal thoughts, she noted.

Suicide mortality is 22% higher among people with epilepsy than among the general population, according to CDC data. “There are a number of studies which suggest that depression in epilepsy is common and associated with powerful negative effects including worse seizure control, poor quality of life, and premature mortality due to suicide,” said Martha Sajatovic, MD, of Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland, who wasn’t involved with the study.

“This work is important because it focuses on suicidal thoughts, a precursor to self-harm or suicide,” Sajatovic told MedPage Today. “The findings highlight the critical need for developing and testing interventions such as self-management or other psychological approaches to address depression among people with epilepsy.”

In this study, Falcone and colleagues mined online comments about suicide, suicidal thoughts, intents, plans, and attempts by epilepsy patients on message boards like community forums, web sites about epilepsy topics, social media, and blogs.

Content analyses showed that 30% of teen posts discussed the social consequences of seizures, compared with 21% of adult posts. Another 29% of teen posts looked for emotional support to manage epilepsy, compared with 19% among adults.

In two-thirds of both teen and adult posts, the primary sentiment was negative. While 42% of adult posts expressed hopelessness, only 4% of teen posts did.

“The fact that teenagers are still seeking information and haven’t given up suggests we have a window of opportunity for providing them supportive and therapeutic information,” Falcone observed.

“Social media-based outreach programs could have a significant impact on suicide prevention among teens, who clearly are motivated to improve their well-being,” she said. Pairing relevant content with hashtag and search optimization strategies also could help epilepsy patients find information and lead to effective, early interventions.

The study was funded by Project IMPACTT from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA).

SOURCE: MedpageToday.com by J. George, Senior Staff Write