Suicide Prevention and Epilepsy

Epilepsy News From: Friday, September 09, 2022

  • World Suicide Prevention Day is September 10, 2022.
  • Recent reports confirm there is a higher rate of suicide among people with epilepsy than in the general population.
  • Learn about the signs someone may need help and how to help.

World Suicide Prevention Day: September 10, 2022

The Epilepsy Foundation is an unwavering ally for individuals and families impacted by epilepsy and seizures. Living with epilepsy is about more than just seizures. It’s also about how seizures, treatments, and other challenges affect our health and wellness. We are here to help in any way possible.

September 10, 2022, is World Suicide Prevention Day, and the Epilepsy Foundation joins others across the world to raise awareness about the risks and realities of suicide and what people can do to get or give help.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), studies on suicide in epilepsy have found a higher risk of death from suicide in people with epilepsy. The risks range from 2.6 to 5 times higher than in the general population. Suicidal ideation or thoughts of suicide are also a problem for some people with epilepsy with past or current problems with mood disorders. Suicidal thoughts and mood disorders may contribute to risks of death in people with epilepsy.

Although everyone at times experiences feelings of sadness, especially if living with a chronic medical condition, depression and thoughts of suicide are not uncommon and need to be taken seriously. The most recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study of the U.S. National Violent Death Reporting System confirms a higher rate of suicide among people with epilepsy than in the general population. In fact, mood disorders, such as major depression, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorders, and others, occur more frequently in people with epilepsy than the general population.

What causes someone with epilepsy to have suicidal thoughts or take their life?

Researchers have found that:

  1. Some of the brain areas responsible for certain types of seizures also affect mood and can lead to depression.
  2. Living with the challenges of epilepsy (such as misunderstanding, discrimination, fear of disclosure, unpredictability of seizures, bullying, financial troubles, and changes in relationships, work, or school) can also lead to depressive thoughts or feelings.
  3. Seizure medications may contribute to changes in mood. Some medicines may help mood, while others may worsen it. People taking any seizure medication should be advised of possible changes in mood, suicidal feelings, or other changes.

Suicide does not just affect people with epilepsy. Family members, caregivers, or anyone dealing with depression or facing serious life challenges may think about suicide.

What are the signs that I or someone I care about may need help?

Get professional help if you or a loved one exhibits or expresses any of these signs:

  • Hopelessness or a feeling that there is no reason to live
  • Withdrawal or isolation
  • Talking about wanting to die or to kill themselves
  • Talking about being a burden to others
  • Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
  • Increasing use of alcohol or other substances
  • Not getting enough sleep or sleeping all the time
  • Being chronically irritable or having angry outbursts
  • Significant changes in eating habits
  • Looking for ways to kill themselves, like searching online or buying a gun

What are other risk factors for suicide?

Other life circumstances can make a person more likely to consider suicide. They can’t cause or predict someone might attempt suicide, but they’re important to be aware of. The 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline suggests watching for these risk factors:

  • Previous suicide attempt(s)
  • Family history of suicide
  • Exposure to others who have died by suicide
  • Mental disorders, particularly mood disorders, schizophrenia, anxiety disorders, and certain personality disorders
  • History of trauma or abuse
  • Major physical illness
  • Job or financial loss
  • Loss of relationship(s)
  • Lack of social support and sense of isolation
  • Stigma associated with asking for help
  • Alcohol and other substance use disorders
  • Lack of healthcare, especially mental health, and substance abuse treatment
  • Easy access to lethal means
  • Cultural and religious beliefs, such as the belief that suicide is a noble resolution of a personal dilemma

These suicide risk factors cannot cause or predict that someone may attempt or die by suicide. If you see any of these warning signs, do something as they may increase a person’s risk for suicide.

What can I do to help myself or someone I care about?

When someone is in crisis, they feel a loss of control and sometimes feel there is no solution. Their pain may be overwhelming and take over their entire life. They may have trouble thinking clearly, are often unable to function, and cannot find any way to feel better.

Regardless of what may cause someone to think about suicide, it is critical to get help if you or someone you know is thinking about suicide.

If you are thinking about suicide:

  • Talk about it – your epilepsy, your mood, and how these may affect your life.
  • Tell someone how you feel, ideally a trusted adult who can help you.
  • Call the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. They can provide support and understanding and connect you to resources that can help.
  • Tell your healthcare team how you feel at every visit.
    • Follow their suggestions.
    • When you start a new seizure medication, ask if it can affect mood, what to look for, and what to do if new symptoms arise.
    • If you experience depression or other mood changes, work with your doctors on a treatment plan and ask for a referral to a mental health professional.
    • If you have thoughts of suicide or feel unsafe, don’t wait for the next visit. Talk to your doctors right away or go to an emergency room to be checked.
  • Keep dangerous objects or weapons locked and out of reach always.

What do I do if someone I know is thinking about suicide?

  • Get involved and be available. Show interest and support.
  • Be direct. Talk openly and matter-of-factly about suicide.
  • Really listen and allow them to express their feelings.
  • Be non-judgmental. Don’t debate whether suicide is right or wrong, or whether feelings are good or bad. Do not lecture on the value of life.
  • Don’t dare them to do it.
  • Don’t act shocked.
  • Don’t be sworn to secrecy. Get help for yourself and your friend or loved one.
  • Act. Remove the method, such as any weapons or pills.
  • Don’t wait. Get help from other people or agencies that specialize in crisis intervention and suicide prevention.

You may be struggling with how to talk with someone who is thinking about suicide. Call the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline any time for help if a friend is struggling.

How can I learn more about suicide and ways to help?

Several training programs are available to learn how to screen for potential suicide and how to respond appropriately. Some of these programs include:

How can the Epilepsy Foundation help?

The Epilepsy & Seizures 24/7 Helpline offers supportive listening and helps connect people with epilepsy, their families, and caregivers to information, resources, and services nationwide. All our information specialists have received suicide intervention training and can coordinate referrals to local providers or emergency services when needed. The helpline is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, both in English and Spanish.

For help finding resources and services in your area or to learn about programs of the Epilepsy Foundation, contact the Epilepsy & Seizures 24/7 Helpline at 1-800-332-1000.


  • 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, Speak with a trained crisis counselor 24-hours a day
  • Crisis Text Line, text TALK to 741-741,
  • Epilepsy & Seizures 24/7 Helpline 1-800-332-1000, Information about epilepsy, Epilepsy & Seizures 24/7 Helpline, and resources for people with epilepsy
  • American Association of Suicidology, Learn about the warning signs for suicide and things you can do to help
  • Suicide Prevention Resource Center,
  • American Foundation for Suicide Prevention,
  • Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, Information on depression and bipolar disorder, online tools, and support groups
  • JED Foundation, Information to assist college students
  • National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Find education, support groups, counseling, and other resources.
  • Find local resources in your area

Authored by

Thomas Buckley MHS, CIRS, and Susan Vosburgh MSW, LCSW-C

Reviewed by

Joseph I. Sirven MD

Reviewed Date

Friday, September 09, 2022

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