In a study published in the journal Epilepsia, researchers from Trinity College Dublin and the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) have shown, for the first time, the mental health significance of hallucinations in people with a history of seizures. Of 15,000 people living in the UK, 8% of individuals with a history of seizures report hallucinations, including experiences of hearing or seeing things that are not based in reality. And, most importantly, of that 8%, 65% also met criteria for one or more mental health disorders and 53% had one or more suicide attempt.
Although hallucinations are known to occur in some adults with seizures, they may be erroneously viewed as “incidental” symptoms of abnormal electrical activity in the brain and nothing more. The findings of this study suggest that these symptoms are not just incidental in people with seizures; they are important markers of risk for mental ill health and for suicidal behavior.
Dr. Ian Kelleher, Research Associate Professor of Psychiatry, Trinity and Senior Author of the study said: “People with epilepsy are known to be at increased risk of suicide. But among individuals with seizures, it’s hard to pick out who is most at risk. What this research shows is that people with seizures who report hallucinations are a particularly high-risk group for suicidal behavior—about half of these individuals had one or more suicide attempt. So, it’s important in epilepsy clinics to ask about hallucinations—and where someone confirms these symptoms, to carefully examine their mental state.”
Dr. Kelleher concluded: “We’ll need further research to fully understand the significance of hallucinations in people with seizures. But what’s clear from this work is that, for clinicians working with people with seizures, asking about auditory and visual hallucinations should be a routine part of their assessment.”