For people who struggle with epilepsy, depression is the most commonly diagnosed mental illness reported. People with epilepsy who are depressed are more likely to report increased seizure activity compared to non-depressed people with epilepsy. An estimated 14% of reported deaths of people with epilepsy are thought to be the result of suicide.
Treating depression in people with epilepsy is important for many reasons. First, depression is closely related to a person’s quality of life. By treating depression and teaching people valuable coping skills, we, as health professionals, can improve the daily life of those living with epilepsy. Furthermore, because epilepsy and depression frequently occur together, improving one condition can improve the other, as well.
Treatments for Depression
Currently, there are two commonly used treatments for depression.
Adding another medication is not acceptable to many people with epilepsy because they are already taking several drugs. They are often concerned because antidepressants can cause unwanted side effects or otherwise interfere with their anti-epilepsy drugs. Furthermore, antidepressants can decrease a person’s seizure threshold to some degree, making it easier for a seizure to occur.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
CBT is a form of psychotherapy that teaches individuals new ways to manage their thoughts and feelings. It focuses on internal (e.g., looking at problems, thinking about yourself and others, and thinking about personal beliefs) and external changes (problem-solving skills, stress management, communication skills, life management skills, and skill to develop and maintain relationships). In addition, unlike medication, CBT provides skills that remain after the treatment ends.
What is Project UPLIFT?
Project UPLIFT (Using Practice and Learning to Increase Favorable Thoughts) is a home-based depression treatment program designed for adults with epilepsy. Part of the Managing Epilepsy Well Network, the program was developed and tested at Emory University by Dr. Nancy Thompson, with Epilepsy Foundation CDC Program support.
UPLIFT is delivered over the phone by a trained mental health facilitator and by a person with epilepsy. The program combines proven techniques of CBT with mindfulness. The goal of mindfulness is to help people change their relationship to their thoughts by viewing thoughts as passing events that do not necessarily represent reality. Based upon this “mindfulness-based” cognitive therapy for depression, the pilot study found the program to significantly reduce symptoms of depression among people with epilepsy.
Project UPLIFT has been effective in:
- increasing knowledge and skills,
- reducing symptoms of depression, and
- increasing satisfaction with life.
Other potential benefits include:
- telephone delivery, eliminating the need for transportation
- anonymity permitted by telephone delivery, which reduces stigma
- group delivery provides for support from other people with epilepsy
- cost effectiveness due to group delivery and no need for transportation
- increased skills to minimize relapse
Bringing UPLIFT to Local Communities
The Epilepsy Foundation, with funding from the CDC, awards two grants per year to our nationwide network of local organizations to help the recipients implement UPLIFT in their communities. This year, Epilepsy Foundation Connecticut and Epilepsy Foundation Delaware have been given funds to implement the program in their states.
New Project UPLIFT Leader Training starting next month!
The ultimate goal of Project UPLIFT is to recruit and train at least one licensed mental health professional from each of the 50 states. The training is free and offers free continuing education credits (CEUs) upon full completion.
Another UPLIFT training begins in August! Emory University is looking for licensed health professionals including (but are not limited to) social workers, psychologists, pastoral and other counselors, registered nurses, and psychiatrists who are interested in signing up. Students in these fields with a supporting letter from a licensed supervisor are also welcome. To enroll, please contact email@example.com. Health professionals from any state will be considered, but priority will be given to those from the following states:
- New Mexico
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
To learn more about Project UPLIFT, contact Emory University firstname.lastname@example.org or Epilepsy & Seizures Helpline 1-800-332-1000 or email us at email@example.com.