Living with Epilepsy – Dr Annie Swanepoel

Over 50 million people worldwide live with epilepsy and most of these are children. Neurologists or paediatricians are usually the first port of call. But did you know that up to 1 in 3 people with epilepsy also have a diagnosable mental health condition? We know that anxiety, depression, suicide attempts, psychosis, ADHD and sleep problems are much more common in people with epilepsy than in the general population. This is due to three reasons:

  • Living with epilepsy is living with a chronic and unpredictable illness, which can take its emotional toll on people and can lead to anxiety and depression. This is not inevitable and therapy and antidepressant medication can help.
  • Some seizure disorders are closely linked to mental illnesses like schizophrenia and it is possible that they have a common underlying biological cause. Such people may need detailed assessments in a tertiary centre to get to the correct diagnosis and treatment.
  • Some people have psychogenic non-epileptic seizures (also called pseudoseizures), which may look very similar to epileptic seizures, but do not have the same brain electric discharge. We know that there are other psychiatric symptoms which may also appear similar, for example, severe panic attacks, depersonalisation (where you feel you are not really in your body) and derealisation (where the world feels unreal, like watching it on TV). These problems can be helped through therapy, particularly Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT). CBT can help people make links between their thoughts, feelings and actions and find better ways to manage their distress.


A common problem is that people with epilepsy often get help for their epilepsy only. The associated mental health symptoms may be overlooked or seen to be part and parcel of epilepsy. This is not helpful and it is important that people with epilepsy get the same access and support for mental health problems as others do. Having epilepsy makes it more likely that there will be associated emotional difficulties. It is not necessary to suffer in silence, as psychiatrists, psychologists and other therapists can help.

– Dr Annie Swanepoel – CAMHS Clinical Director and Child & Adolescent Consultant Psychiatrist


Potters Bar Clinic offers CAMHS Tier 4 low secure services for young people aged 13 to 18 with a wide range of disorders and complex needs. Our aim is to deliver, treat and empower each young person to live a safe and independent life and reach their individual potential.