A rather troubling study has recently surfaced that suggests people with epilepsy face higher levels of discrimination and abuse than the general population, and even those with other chronic health problems. The research, published in the journal Epilepsia, was part of an attempt to see whether these sorts of psychosocial adversities could be connected to the higher rates of depression and anxiety disorders found among those with epilepsy.
The study was performed in England and was based off a series of computerized and face-to-face interviews with 7,403 individuals. Diagnosed cases of epilepsy and other chronic conditions were examined as well as reports of discrimination, domestic violence, physical or sexual abuse, and other forms of stressful life events.
The results were as follows:
- People with epilepsy were seven times more likely to report experiencing discrimination compared to the general population. This was also greater than those who had other chronic health problems
- Greater odds of experiencing domestic violence or sexual abuse were present among those with epilepsy and other chronic conditions than in the general population
- There was less evidence for a link between epilepsy and physical abuse or suffering other stressful life events at a higher rate
- Exploratory analysis, assuming a causal connection, found that discrimination, domestic violence, and sexual abuse explained 42.7 % of the total impact of the link between epilepsy, depression, and anxiety disorders
The last point is slightly confusing, so it warrants a bit extra explanation. People with epilepsy have higher rates of depression and anxiety disorders, which in turn come from a variety of different factors. The analysis suggests that around 40% of those factors tie in to discrimination, domestic violence, or sexual abuse in some manner. This is a very rough summary, but it should give a general idea of what the implications are.
To be clear, the analysis was done under the assumption of a causal path between the elements at play—it isn’t proof such a link exists. To establish further associations, a more long-term type of study would be required. Such a longitudinal investigation is encouraged in the study’s findings, along with the suggestion that the findings could help focus efforts in devising intervention targets.
Nimmo-Smith, V., et al., “Discrimination, domestic violence, abuse, and other adverse life events in people with epilepsy: Population-based study to assess the burden of these events and their contribution to psychopathology,” Epilepsia, 2016; 10.1111/epi.13561.