Conference Coverage

Teenagers with epilepsy may benefit from depression screening



Clinicians should screen patients with pediatric epilepsy for depression regularly, according to research described at the annual meeting of the American Epilepsy Society. Referral to a mental health provider is adequate for most patients with moderately severe symptoms of depression, but some patients may require active intervention during the clinical visit, said the researchers.

Dr. Susan Arnold, director, Comprehensive Epilepsy Center, Children’s Health System, Dallas

Dr. Susan Arnold

“We know that depression is more common in people with epilepsy, compared to the general population, but there is less information about depression in children and teens than adults, and little is known about the factors that increase the likelihood of depressive symptoms,” said Hillary Thomas, PhD, a pediatric psychologist at Children’s Medical Center in Dallas. “Depression screening should be routine at epilepsy treatment centers and can identify children and teens who would benefit from intervention.”

Following 2015 guidelines from the American Academy of Neurology, the Comprehensive Epilepsy Center at Children’s Health System in Dallas developed a behavioral health screening protocol for teens with epilepsy. The center aims to identify patients with depressive symptoms and ensure that they are referred to appropriate behavioral health practitioners. Clinicians also review the screening data and seizure variables for their potential implications for clinical care. Researchers at the center also seek to elucidate the relationship between depressive symptoms and seizure diagnosis and treatment.

As part of the protocol, Dr. Thomas and her colleagues administer the Patient Health Questionnaire-9 (adolescent version) to all patients aged 15-18 years during their visit to the epilepsy clinic. Patients with intellectual disability or other factors that prevent them from providing valid responses are excluded. If a patient’s PHQ-9 score indicates at least moderately severe depressive symptoms, or if he or she reports suicidal ideation, clinicians follow a specific response protocol that includes providing referrals, encouraging follow-up with the patient’s current mental health provider, and obtaining a suicide risk assessment from a psychologist or social worker. After the screener is completed, clinicians retrieve demographic and clinical data (e.g., seizure diagnosis, medication, number of clinic or emergency department visits) from the patient’s medical record and include them in a database for subsequent analysis.

Dr. Thomas and her colleagues presented data from 394 youth with epilepsy whom they had screened. Patients’ mean age was 16 years, and half of the population was female. The study population had rates of depression similar to those identified in previous studies, said Dr. Thomas. Approximately 87% of patients had minimal or mild depressive symptoms, and 8% had moderately severe depressive symptoms. Furthermore, 5% of the patients reported suicidal ideation or previous suicide attempt. Several of the patients with suicidal ideation had a current mental health provider, and the others required an in-clinic risk assessment. Overall, 13% of the population required behavioral health referral or intervention. When the researchers conducted chi-squared analysis, they found no significant association between seizure type and depression severity.

“Our results don’t mean that only 13% of the teens with epilepsy had depressive symptoms,” said Susan Arnold, MD, director of the Comprehensive Epilepsy Center and a coauthor of the study. “They indicate the significant percentage of teens whose level of depressive symptoms warranted behavioral health referrals or further evaluation or even intervention during a clinic visit. Health care providers need to be vigilant about continually screening children and teens for depression.” As part of each patient’s comprehensive care, epilepsy treatment centers should provide psychosocial teams that include social workers or psychologists, she added.

The investigators plan to continue analyzing the data for specific depression symptoms that are most common in teens. These symptoms could be the basis for developing additional resources for families, such as lists of warning signs and guides to symptom management, as well as group therapy and support groups.

SOURCE: Thomas HM et al. Abstract 1.388.

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