This week I pitched tent in Nyandarua County, Olkalou constituency in bid to bring Epilepsy out of the shadows. I had an opportunity to interact with the local administrative leaders who are a link to different community groups. I was seeking to understand the psychosocial issues around Epilepsy as perceived by the community.
The people here likens Epilepsy to mental illness, and this has contributed to patients being highly stigmatized. An awareness program initiated by Afya Research Africa organization through their affiliate Ubuntu-Afya clinics seek to change the narrative of the community’s perception about Epilepsy.
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.
The 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 diagnosis.
There is no direct association between mental illness and epilepsy, but mental illness may occur more frequently in epileptics for a number of reasons. Examples would be recurrent status epilepticus, where a series of unremitting seizures can cause secondary problems to brain function, and where epilepsy severely curtails employability and lifestyle. This can affect outlook on life, personality, and cause social withdrawal and induce depression. Drug treatment can also cause sedation and influence mood.
Epilepsy is not a mental illness. In fact, the vast majority of people living with epilepsy have no cognitive or psychological problem. For the most part, psychological issues in epilepsy are limited to people with severe and uncontrolled epilepsy.
Epilepsy and intellectual disability
Epilepsy itself does not cause severe intellectual problems, but the two can occur together and be caused by the same thing. For example, low oxygen, injury or infection at birth may cause mental retardation, epilepsy, and cerebral palsy.
The degree of cognitive or intellectual problems is related to;
- epilepsy starting at an early age
- having many seizures
- having an underlying brain lesion
- poor seizure control
- how long it takes to get seizures controlled
In young children, development can be delayed due to uncontrolled seizures.
Individuals with severe intellectual problems have higher rates of brain abnormalities (or changes in the brain structure). They may result in different kinds of seizures. These also usually start in early life.
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