We all feel low and depressed sometimes, without it being a medical problem. Like anxiety, depression becomes a problem when the unhappy feelings don’t go away and it affects our daily life: eating, sleeping or being able to get out of bed.
Depression isn’t just about feeling sad or ‘down’. It’s about losing interest and enjoyment in the things you used to enjoy.
If you’re depressed, you may feel worthless, hopeless, tearful, tired, restless or anxious. You may lose interest in sex, or not care about your appearance. You may not be able to remember, concentrate or make decisions. You may sleep badly or wake up too early. Your appetite or weight may go up or down. You may think that life is not worth living, or think about taking your own life or death in general.
Depression is common
Around 16% of adults in the UK have some symptoms of depression.
Sometimes depression is triggered by an upsetting or life-changing event, such as bereavement, unemployment, family problems, debt, an accident, or an illness. Some people are more likely to become depressed than others because of a family history of depression. Frequent stress (too much pressure) may make depression more likely.
Depression is more likely in someone with epilepsy but this does not necessarily mean that one condition has caused the other. Nor does it mean that depression is something you just have to put up with.
See our information on links between epilepsy and mood.
Helping yourself – some ideas
- Take plenty of exercise. When you exercise, brain chemicals are stimulated that may improve your mood and exercise and hobbies are good ways of getting out and meeting people. Feeling fitter can also help you feel more positive about yourself. If you are tired or depressed you may not feel like being active, but exercise can actually boost energy levels. You are more likely to stick to exercise when you enjoy it and when you notice that it helps you. Having a hobby that you enjoy, like gardening or dancing, can also help to improve your mood.
- Eat regular, well-balanced meals. This will help increase your energy levels and boost your immune system, which may help you feel positive and reduce the risk of seizures. Cutting down caffeine and sugar may help avoid highs and lows in your energy levels, and in your mood.
- Note the times when you feel especially low. Think about what helped you cope last time. Notice when you feel more positive. What is it that has helped you to feel better?
Asking for help
Sometimes helping yourself feel better is not enough on its own and you may need extra help. Your GP can suggest other treatment options. It can be hard to ask for help and you may not like the idea of seeing a doctor about mood problems. But looking after your mental health is positive, and getting treatment can make a big difference.
Seeing your GP may be most beneficial when it feels like you are working together. You can help your GP by telling them about the different feelings you have. It may help to write down what you want from the appointment before you go. Your GP can help by listening, by looking at your medical history, and by asking you what you think might help you.
If you feel your depression is linked to your epilepsy or to side effects of your anti-seizure medication (ASM), you can ask your GP to review your epilepsy or refer you to a neurologist. Your GP may refer you to a local exercise programme or make suggestions about your diet. They may recommend a ‘talking’ therapy, medication, or a combination of treatments. Any treatment is more likely to work if you are happy with it.
These may help reduce depression and make life more manageable. Talking in confidence about your feelings about epilepsy may be helpful. ‘Talking’ therapies include counselling, psychotherapy, and group therapy.
The NHS offer 'Talking' therapies and your GP can refer you for this or you can refer yourself directly.
The NHS also have urgent mental health helplines offering 24 hour support.
You can also call our confidential helpline to talk through how you are feeling.
If coping with depression is very difficult, your GP may offer you medication, sometimes along with a ‘talking’ therapy. Your GP or specialist may check that you are on the right ASM first.
ASM can have both positive and negative effects on mood and will affect people differently. If you are offered medication for depression, your doctor can check which is the best drug for you, and one that is least likely to affect your ASM or your seizure control. Reporting side effects will help your GP to see which treatment suits you.
Where family and friends can help
You may not recognise that you are depressed or low. Family or friends may notice changes in your mood before you do. Comments made by others may be hard to hear but they may be worried about you.
If you are worried about someone with epilepsy who seems depressed, helpful approaches include the following:
- Ask how they are feeling, then listen without interrupting when they want to talk.
- Keep any comments factual, rather than giving opinions on what you think they should do.
Sources of help
- The Royal College of Psychiatrists has information and resources about depression.
- The NHS website has information about depression and how to cope with it..
- Mind is a mental health charity offering information about depression and how to access treatment and support.
Epilepsy Society is grateful to the many people with epilepsy who helped produce this information by generously sharing their experiences.
Information updated: June 2022
Epilepsy Society's confidential helpline is available for anyone affected by epilepsy.
Call us on 01494 601400. You can also reach us by email firstname.lastname@example.org or chat with us online.