Identifying depression in young people


Bruce Shiell, Wellbeing Worker at Epilepsy Scotland looks at how being diagnosed with epilepsy can affect self-esteem for many children and how parents can identify signs of depression.

After being diagnosed with epilepsy, some children can show emotional or behavioural problems particularly if their parents are upset and anxious as well.

A child’s reaction will also depend on their age and whether the diagnosis of epilepsy was explained in a sensitive and age appropriate way.

Your child may struggle to understand the diagnosis. They also may feel different and isolated from others, which can be difficult to cope with.

Many of these reactions are normal and a child will usually adjust well.

Parents and other people play an important part during this period to ensure they have the support they need.

However, parents need to be careful not to react in an over-protective way to their child’s epilepsy as restrictions to activities can make them upset or angry about having the condition.

Particularly for older children, epilepsy can affect self-esteem on many levels. It may lead to depression in some young people, if not addressed early.


Identifying depression

If you can answer yes to a number of the following questions, you may want to seek further advice from your child’s doctor or epilepsy specialist nurse.

  • Does your child appear unhappy or troubled by something?
  • Does your child seem worried, fearful or helpless?
  • Is your child quiet or withdrawn?
  • Is your child refusing to play with friends or take part in fun activities?
  • Does your child have trouble sleeping?
  • Is your child having trouble concentrating?Depression
  • Is your child expressing frequent negative thoughts?
  • Does your child appear unmotivated or lethargic?
  • Is your child getting poorer marks at school than expected?
  • Is your child complaining of headaches or general aches and pains?
  • Does your child cry easily?
  • Is your child refusing to eat or wants to eat all the time?
  • Does your child get easily angry or aggressive?

Possible causes of depression

Apart from psychological causes, depression can be linked to the cause of a child’s epilepsy.

The brain controls our emotions and moods, and any damage to a part of the brain, which deals with these feelings could lead to depression.

Depression can also be a side effect of taking anti-epileptic drugs. A doctor will want to monitor this carefully, so the treatment doesn’t have an adverse effect.

Also, there could be issues with bullying or falling behind with learning at school. Teachers play an important role in helping your child accept their epilepsy and normalise the condition.

It is important that teachers are not over-protective and not placing too many restrictions on your child.


Getting the right help

Start exploring some of the issues with your child. Depending on their age, your child may prefer to talk to another family member, a family friend, a trusted teacher or an epilepsy specialist nurse.

Our Youth Groups in Edinburgh and Glasgow are a great way of connecting others who have epilepsy and can make them feel less alone. It also may help them overcome isolation, low confidence and low self-esteem. For more information, click the link.

If necessary, the child may be referred to a psychiatrist for an assessment of the depression.

In some cases, anti-depressants may be prescribed. However, this is rare for children.

Our free parent information pack contains factsheets on numerous topics to help parents of a child who has been diagnosed with epilepsy. For an information pack, please email or call 0808 800 2200.