Mental Health and Epilepsy in the Black Community

Epilepsy News From: Tuesday, February 28, 2023

In a study of adults 18 years and older, researchers found that adults with epilepsy were twice as likely to report feelings of depression in the previous year compared to adults without epilepsy.

Depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders are common amongst people with epilepsy, so it is important to think about how these conditions can affect different racial and ethnic groups within our community.

In one recent study, African Americans with chronic medical conditions were more likely to report depression compared to non-Hispanic White people with chronic medical conditions. This may be worsened by social factors like racism, discrimination, and economic inequality, which can lead to additional stress and lower quality of life.

Unfortunately, there are often significant barriers to appropriate medical care for African Americans. This includes fewer healthcare providers who understand their experiences, shame around seeking treatment for mental health, and limited resources compared to other groups in the epilepsy community.  

Finding Inspiration Within Yourself

An image of a Black woman in a pink blazer
Natalie Y. Beavers, president and founder of Angels of Epilepsy

When Natalie Y. Beavers, president and founder of Angels of Epilepsy, was asked about what inspires her to tell her story, she confidently responded with, “ME.”

Natalie’s epilepsy journey began four decades ago when she was only five years old. Since then, Natalie has tried many anti-seizure medications and had two brain surgeries on her left temporal lobe. Natalie still experiences seizures from time to time.

Natalie is not ashamed of the mental health challenges she has experienced due to her epilepsy. “I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression after a tragic car accident where I had a seizure while driving many years ago,” said Natalie.

Natalie described how difficult it was to find mental health counseling in her city or even nearby. “Many people with epilepsy when they see a counselor for treatment have a hard time finding someone who will listen,” said Natalie. “I’ve learned, and often tell others, if they feel uncomfortable with a physician or counselor, go out and seek another until you receive proper treatment.”

Natalie also explained that many people with epilepsy who need counseling or psychological assistance may not have medical insurance. As an advocate, she gives suggestions and valuable information to those who are reaching out for mental health resources.

“I wish other people knew that epilepsy and mental health comes together,” said Natalie. “Living with epilepsy is hard for the survivor but also for the families. I wish others would just understand us and do their research about epilepsy because at any time, anyone, any age, and any race can be diagnosed with epilepsy. I also wish that every school, business, and those who work in public places are required to become seizure first-aid certified.”

When things get tough, Natalie turns to meditation to help with anxiety and overcome the stress that comes with her seizures. She also reflects on why her role in the community is so important. “Years ago, I looked in the mirror and realized that I am still here for a reason, and I need to share my story. I’ve gone through quite a bit over my four decades living with epilepsy. If my story only encourages just one person, I will be just fine.”

Mental Health-Related Resources

If you or someone you know is struggling with epilepsy and mental health, there are resources that can help.

The Managing Epilepsy Well Network (MEW) offers several mental health programs to help people with epilepsy and their caregivers manage anxiety, depression, cognitive problems, and more.

Project UPLIFT for Epilepsy is a program within MEW that provides cognitive behavioral therapy online and via phone to treat depression in people with epilepsy. Project UPLIFT at Morehouse School of Medicine's Prevention Research Center in Atlanta, GA is one of the MEW programs that has been adapted for African Americans living with epilepsy. To learn about the program and how it supports the African American community, please read the CDC success story which provides more detail.

We encourage you to connect with the Epilepsy Foundation or a local office to receive additional resources.

If you are in need of urgent mental health support, please contact 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline.

Authored by

Kaitlyn Gallagher

Reviewed by

Thometta Cozart MS, MPH, CHES, CPH

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