May 5, 2020

Severe Psychological Distress Among Epilepsy Patients during the COVID-19 Outbreak in Southwest China

Objective: To compare the severity of psychological distress between epilepsy patients and healthy controls during the COVID-19 outbreak in southwest China, as well as identify potential risk factors of severe psychological distress among epilepsy patients.

Methods: This cross-sectional case control study examined a consecutive sample of patients older than 15 years treated at the epilepsy center of West China Hospital between 01 and 29 February 2020. As controls, sex- and age-matched healthy visitors of inpatients (unrelated to the patients) were also enrolled during the same period. Data on demographics and attention paid to COVID-19 were collected by online questionnaire, data on epilepsy features were collected from electronic medical records, and psychological distress was evaluated using a well-established psychological distress scale.

Results: The 252 patients and 252 controls in this study were similar along all demographic variables except family income. Patients with epilepsy spent significantly more time following the COVID-19 outbreak that healthy controls. Two independent predictors of severe psychological distress were identified: time spent paying attention to COVID-19 and diagnosis of drug-resistant epilepsy.

Significance: During public health outbreaks, clinicians and caregivers should focus not only on seizure control but also on mental health of epilepsy patients, especially those with drug-resistant epilepsy. This may mean, for example, encouraging patients to engage in other activities instead of excessively following media coverage of the outbreak.

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