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The Link Between Epilepsy, Unemployment and Depression

It’s almost impossible to talk about epilepsy without mentioning depression. There’s an intricate link between the two, and it can be a little like the chicken and egg paradox.  

People with epilepsy may begin to develop depression after diagnosis. Others may already experience depression before the epilepsy diagnosis is given. Many variables surround the two conditions, and both epilepsy and depression diagnosis’ can bring with it biological and psychological ramifications. 

Perhaps someone already struggling with depression, a mental illness which is bubbling beneath the surface, who is also feeling sad in daily life might later develop epilepsy. If this is the case, the adjustment to a person’s state of mind, the memory loss and low energy levels can be tough to accept and manage, bringing further cause for mental health problems.

Suppose a violent epileptic seizure occurs for the first time, leading to a diagnosis and long term medication. It can hit like a freight train, changing the very fabric of life.   

“Following the epilepsy diagnosis, I was imploding magnificently”

Simon Judges (Mind)

Simon Judges, once an account director a high-profile PR agency (a job that was rife with pressure and responsibility), developed epilepsy later in life. Shortly after turning 40 years old, and while sitting at his desk at work, he had a severe epileptic seizure – “full thrashing about, eyes rolling, foaming at the mouth, the works”.

After being hospitalised for a week and subsequently signed off work for a month, Simon was diagnosed with epilepsy. After the diagnosis, he found that he was making simple mistakes and unable to cope with the tiring nature of his job.

Receiving an epilepsy diagnosis can make people feel less than, not good enough, and anxious about losing their job and putting pressure on their family life.  

Depression and epilepsy don’t discriminate based on economic background, gender, qualifications, or race. Everyone is open to developing either disease at any given time. 

Girl struggling in work with epilepsy and depression

What can be extremely worrying is that not everyone has support around them to deal with both epilepsy and depression. Unfortunately, not everyone has a supportive family, or perhaps family members don’t feel equipped emotionally to deal with the complexities of both diseases.  

“I know I’m extremely blessed in having a supportive wife who understands and is used to my depression, and that I work for a company that really looks after it’s employees. I know that not everyone can be that lucky”

Simon Judges (Mind)

Many employers aren’t qualified enough to handle it or lack the understanding needed. Hopefully, more giant corporations who have the funds and the resources can facilitate a fairer, more equal hiring and retention policy, but that’s not always a given.  

Some employers are merely ignorant and are not interested in making the necessary adjustments or lack the vision or innovation for change from within. Due to this, it can sometimes make it impossible for someone to continue with their job.  

Disabled people are more than twice as likely as non-disabled people to be out of work, and those living with epilepsy can struggle to find employment even more so.  

34% of those who identified as having epilepsy as their primary health condition are currently out of work.

Epilepsy and depression may be viewed as a barrier to employment due to a lack of understanding as to what epilepsy is, the types of seizures and how this may or may not affect someone’s job role. Many employers, through ignorance, assume all epileptic seizures are tonic-clonic. They’re also not educated enough to know that epilepsy can be managed through medication. 

“Often I wanted to play it down, to avoid being seen as too much of a risk”

Epilepsy Action (Anita)

Being out of work, financial stress, and a feeling of uselessness can lead to depression in many of those living with epilepsy. Depression can cause sadness and anger. It can affect sleeping and eating habits and have a detrimental effect on past, present and future relationships.  

Girl feeling stressed due to the pressure of epilepsy and depression

“Researchers found that adults with epilepsy were twice as likely to report feelings of depression in the previous year compared to adults without epilepsy”

– Epilepsy Foundation

But it’s not just underlying mental health issues or the circumstances surrounding epilepsy and unemployment that can cause depression. Other research shows some areas of the brain responsible for certain types of seizures also affect mood, leading to symptoms of depression.

The more severe epilepsy, the more severe the depression can be. It can also work the other way around, and people who have depression can sometimes develop epilepsy. When both epilepsy and depression occur, its commonly referred to as ‘comorbid’.  

The common thread that runs between both epilepsy and depression is the lack of understanding and stigma associated and the sensation of isolation from the rest of society. Feeling misunderstood and marginalised only exacerbates the sense of hopelessness and melancholy. 

It’s so important that we spread awareness for both conditions, to undo the myths that have circulated, to treat everyone with equal respect and realise that every individual is different. We can make adjustments to ensure everyone feels valued and worthy, no matter their health status. 

If you’re struggling with epilepsy, depression or both, it’s best to contact your GP or a mental health professional for medical advice.

If you need to talk to someone anonymously, there are many talking therapies available to you. We recommend giving The Samaritans a call on 116 123.

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