December 8, 2020

Managing Depression and Anxiety in People with Epilepsy: A Survey of Epilepsy Health Professionals by The ILAE Psychology Task Force

Abstract, originally published in Epilepsia Open

Objectives: The Psychology Task Force of the Medical Therapies Commission of the International League Against Epilepsy (ILAE) has been charged with taking steps to improve global mental health care for people with epilepsy. This study aimed to inform the direction and priorities of the Task Force by examining epilepsy health care providers’ current practical experiences, barriers and unmet needs around addressing depression and anxiety in their patients.

Methods: A voluntary 27-item online survey was distributed via ILAE chapters and networks. It assessed practices in the areas of screening, referral, management and psychological care for depression and anxiety. A total of 445 participants, from 67 countries (68% high income), commenced the survey, with 87% completing all components. Most respondents (80%) were either neurologists or epileptologists.

Results: Less than half of respondents felt adequately resourced to manage depression and anxiety. There was a lack of consensus about which health professionals were responsible for screening and management of these comorbidities. About a third only assessed for depression and anxiety following spontaneous report and lack of time was a common barrier (>50%). Routine referrals to psychiatrists (>55%) and psychologists (>41%) were common, but approximately one third relied on watchful waiting. A lack of both trained mental health specialists (>55%) and standardized procedures (>38%) were common barriers to referral practices. The majority (>75%) of respondents’ patients identified with depression or anxiety had previously accessed psychotropic medications or psychological treatments. However, multiple barriers to psychological treatments were endorsed, including accessibility difficulties (52%).

Significance: The findings suggest that while the importance of managing depression and anxiety in patients with epilepsy is being recognized, there are ongoing barriers to effective mental health care. Key future directions include the need for updated protocols in this area and the integration of mental health professionals within epilepsy settings.

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