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Finding common cause between epilepsy and behavioral health

March 30, 2017
by Ron Manderscheid, PhD, Executive Director, NACBHDD and NARMH
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Just a few short days ago, I had a wonderful opportunity to participate in a Skills Building Conference held annually by the Epilepsy Foundation. The primary purpose of this year’s event was to develop strategies for organizing communities of practice at all levels—local to national—including partners from allied fields like mental health and substance use.

Epilepsy is a very serious disease that affects about 3 million people (1% of the U.S. population), with annual healthcare costs in excess of $4.3 billion. It is more prevalent among adolescents and older persons, yet can occur at any age. It is very treatable and can be controlled, yet almost one-third of those with this disease have uncontrolled seizures and do not receive needed care. If epilepsy remains untreated, it is likely to lead to early death. Most healthcare providers are not trained in appropriate procedures for epilepsy care.

Like mental disorders and substance use conditions, epilepsy occurs much more frequently among persons who are poor. Because many people in the community lack knowledge of epilepsy and become afraid when they witness a person having a seizure, those with this disorder often are subjected to stigma.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provide national leadership to the epilepsy field. In this capacity, the agency fosters partnerships with key organizations to train providers on good epilepsy care and to educate the broader community to reduce the stigma associated with this disorder. A special focus of this work is the development and dissemination of self-management programs to control seizures. Recently, CDC awarded a five year contract to the Epilepsy Foundation to undertake technical assistance, coalition building, and support for pilot efforts to develop the capacity of the epilepsy field.

Epilepsy should be of great concern to the behavioral health field. The rate of serious mental illness among persons with epilepsy, about 12%, is three to four times the overall rate in the U.S. population. Depression occurs very frequently in this population and often remains untreated. Epilepsy is neither recognized nor treated in most behavioral healthcare settings.

If we consider all these factors, it should come as little surprise that the issues confronting the epilepsy field are the same issues that we seek to address in behavioral healthcare. Further, the likely solutions to these issues are the same ones that we currently are developing. Thus, we have an exceptional opportunity for synergy between epilepsy and behavioral health that can be of great benefit to both fields.

Here are several core issues that the epilepsy communities of practice intend to confront which are of equal concern to behavioral health:

Recognition and assessment

Issue: Health and behavioral health programs often fail to recognize and assess epilepsy. (As an instance, does your program currently assess for epilepsy?)  Further, epilepsy programs fail to recognize and assess mental illness in persons who are receiving care.                                                                                                                                                                 

Recommended action: Develop and test pilot programs that cross train in recognition and assessment between epilepsy, behavioral health, and health.

Good integrated care



Ron Manderscheid

Exec. Dir., NACBHDD and NARMH

Ron Manderscheid



Ron Manderscheid, Ph.D., serves as the Executive Director of the National Association of County...

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