Psychiatric and behavioral comorbidities in epilepsy: A critical reappraisal

Anne T. Berg*, Hamada H. Altalib, Orrin Devinsky

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

75 Scopus citations


Psychiatric and behavioral disorders are important aspects of epilepsy and have received increasing attention in the last several years. The literature upon which most of the field relies contains some biases that must be carefully examined and resolved in future studies. First, in the pediatric epilepsy literature, many reports find that children with epilepsy have high levels of behavioral and psychiatric disorders when compared to appropriate controls. Most of these studies rely on parent-proxy completed instruments to assess these behavioral endpoints. Parents’ reports are not objective but reflect parents’ reactions and emotions. Increasing evidence suggests inherent biases in proxy reports and highlights the need to assess children directly. Second, periictal phenomena may be mischaracterized as underlying mood disorders. Third, many studies report elevated levels of psychiatric morbidity before and after the diagnosis of epilepsy, suggesting an inherent relation between the two types of disorders. Psychogenic nonepileptic seizures, while widely recognized as posing a diagnostic dilemma in the clinic, may account for some of these research findings. Diagnostic errors between epilepsy and psychogenic nonepileptic seizures need careful consideration when evaluating studies demonstrating associations between psychiatric disorders and epilepsy or poorer seizure control in association with psychiatric disorders in people who have epilepsy. Mental health concerns are important for everyone. An accurate, undistorted understanding of the relation between mental health disorders and epilepsy is essential to ensure appropriate therapy and to avoid unnecessary and potentially harmful treatments and common misconceptions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1123-1130
Number of pages8
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2017


  • Bias
  • Diagnostic errors
  • Mood disorders
  • Proxy report
  • Psychogenic nonepileptic seizures

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Neurology


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