More than half of mothers of children with epilepsy at risk for depression

Mothers of children with epilepsy are at risk of having poor mental health and wellbeing, according to a new study by researchers at Lawson Health Research Institute and Western University. The research team is the first to study families of children with epilepsy long-term.

The research included 356 mothers of children with epilepsy and is part of a larger project that studied family outcomes over a 10-year period.

The researchers found that 57 per cent of mothers of children with epilepsy were at risk for major depressive disorder at some point during the 10-year follow-up. They also found that 20 per cent of mothers were at risk for major depressive disorder at the time of their child’s diagnosis and at each follow-up assessment.

For most mothers, depressive symptoms did not change over a 10-year period, even when their children had been seizure free for more than five years. These results show maternal depressive symptoms are persistent and may not be related to the course of seizure control.

“This study shows that mothers of children with epilepsy are at risk for depression and that depressive symptoms often persist over the course of a decade,” says Dr. Kathy Nixon Speechley, Scientist at Children’s Health Research Institute, a program of Lawson, and Professor at the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, Western University.

Researchers found that a positive family environment at the time of diagnosis was consistently associated with better long-term outcomes. Family environment was assessed using factors like supportive nature, extended social support and satisfaction with family relationships.

Children’s cognitive problems, types of seizures and mothers’ age and education were also associated with mothers’ depression over time.

“The results of this study suggest family environment could be a key target for intervention due to its effects on parental, as well as children’s, mental health,” adds Klajdi Puka, a PhD candidate at Western University who conducted this research under the supervision of Dr. Speechley. “We hope these findings will emphasize the importance of going beyond treating the child and focusing on the family as a whole.”

The research team is now expanding on their work on the prognosis and risk factors for poor long-term mental health by piloting an intervention program for both children with epilepsy and their parents. With funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), this community-based treatment program will be delivered to 100 families of children with epilepsy. The program will focus on mindful awareness, social-emotional learning skills, neuroscience and positive psychology.

The study, “Prevalence and trajectories of depressive symptoms among mothers of children with newly diagnosed epilepsy: A longitudinal 10-year study,” is published in Epilepsia. It was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and Children’s Health Foundation.


As the research institute of London Health Sciences Centre and St. Joseph’s Health Care London, and working in partnership with Western University, Lawson Health Research Institute is committed to furthering scientific knowledge to advance health care around the world.


Western University delivers an academic experience second to none. Since 1878, The Western Experience has combined academic excellence with life-long opportunities for intellectual, social and cultural growth in order to better serve our communities. Our research excellence expands knowledge and drives discovery with real-world application. Western attracts individuals with a broad worldview, seeking to study, influence and lead in the international community.


The Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry at Western University is one of Canada’s preeminent medical and dental schools. Established in 1881, it was one of the founding schools of Western University and is known for being the birthplace of family medicine in Canada. For more than 130 years, the School has demonstrated a commitment to academic excellence and a passion for scientific discovery.