Employment is a significant determinate of overall quality of life for the person with epilepsy. However, people with epilepsy often have difficulty finding and maintaining employment and have higher rates of unemployment and underemployment than the general population (Smeets et al 2007).
The causes for this are multiple and complex. There is a direct impact of seizure frequency and severity, with more frequent seizures correlating with lower employment rates. Associated intellectual disability, cognitive impairments related to seizures and anti-epileptic medication, and negative impact of childhood onset seizures on school achievement also contribute. Psychosocial issues ranging from epilepsy associated mood disorders, lack of access to transportation, and the impact of seizures on self-esteem are further examples of challenges to full employment. Unfortunately, people with epilepsy also continue to face fear, misunderstanding and workplace discrimination.
State and federal vocational rehabilitation programs are available to help unemployed people with qualifying disabilities such as epilepsy overcome barriers to employment. Services include:
- therapeutic counseling,
- guidance to match an individual’s abilities with appropriate positions,
- education and job skill training,
- job readiness training, and
- assistance with job search activities and placement.
In an analysis of data reported by state rehabilitation service offices, almost half of people with epilepsy who received services were able to achieve competitive employment (C. Sung et al., 2014). Those who were successful in finding employment were more likely to have post-high school education and less likely to have depression and anxiety. In addition, the group that found employment was noted to have received more vocational rehabilitation services, particularly job placement assistance and on the job support/maintenance services.
The study confirms that vocational rehabilitation is effective for many people with epilepsy. Referral to the appropriate agencies for these services should be encouraged as part of comprehensive epilepsy care.
Sung C, Muller V, Jones JE, Chan F. Vocational rehabilitation service patterns and employment outcomes of people with epilepsy. Epilepsy Research (2014) 108: 1469-79.
Smeets VM, van Lierop BA, Vanhoutvin JP, Aldenkamp AP, Nijhuis FJ. Epilepsy and employment: literature review. Epilepsy & Behavior (2007) 10: 354-62.