Epilepsy Diagnosis Creates Risk for Suicide
Individuals with newly diagnosed epilepsy were found to be at a three-fold increase in risk for suicide. The risk for newly diagnosed individuals with previous psychiatric diagnoses jumped to a 29-fold increase in the first six months of the epilepsy diagnosis according to an article in Lancet Neurology (July 3, 2007). The findings are based on a Danish study involving nearly 450,000 individuals of which over 21,000 committed suicide. Of the group who died by suicide, 492 had been diagnosed with epilepsy in the six month period prior to their death. In a review of the study by Michael Sperling, M.D. of the Jefferson Comprehensive Epilepsy Center in Philadelphia, he referred to the study as "frankly confirmatory" and noted that "persons with epilepsy are also more likely to experience depression and, particularly when seizures are uncontrolled, suicides are significantly higher." Dr. Christiansen who was involved in the study reported that the risk of suicide declined with the duration of epilepsy.
This study highlights the need to inform individuals with a new diagnosis of epilepsy of the risks of depression and to consistently monitor their mental health status and risk factors during the critical first six month post-diagnosis period. Certainly for individuals with a prior psychiatric diagnosis, the risk factors need to be carefully followed and evaluated on an ongoing basis.