By Deron Hamel
People living with epilepsy often find themselves battling stress, anxiety and depression related to their condition, and these mental health issues can be exacerbated when they live in a region that does not offer adequate resources to help them.
But thanks to a new cognitive behavioural therapy program offered by Epilepsy Ontario, people with epilepsy who are also dealing with depression or anxiety related to their seizure disorder can now meet virtually to get the help and support they need.
Epilepsy Ontario began offering a free support program called UPLIFT – an acronym for “using practice and learning to increase favourable thoughts” – in June as a way to help people living with epilepsy address mental health issues they face and meet others who share similar experiences.
The organization began running UPLIFT to address the needs of people with epilepsy living in areas that do not have a local epilepsy agency, especially in parts of northern Ontario, says Holly O’Neill, Epilepsy Ontario’s UPLIFT provincial program co-ordinator.
O’Neill says the program has garnered lots of interest and took off immediately. While UPLIFT helps people deal with anxiety and depression related to epilepsy, the opportunity to meet others living with epilepsy has been the program’s main attraction, O’Neill says.
“People really wanted to be able to meet other people living with epilepsy, I think that’s the main thing that draws them into it,” she says.
“(UPLIFT helps) people to connect with each other and (allows them) to hear the experiences of other people who have epilepsy, because a lot of people who have epilepsy don’t know other people who have epilepsy, so that’s one of the main things people get out of it.”
Through UPLIFT, participants learn coping strategies to help deal with mental health issues that are often associated with epilepsy. Participants meet through teleconferencing each week. A new coping skill is worked on each time the group meets and participants practise that skill. They return to share their experiences with the group.
“It’s meant to build a group atmosphere of support and helps people (understand) that they are not alone with the stresses that they have,” O’Neill says.
“People love that they are able to connect with others, and they like being able to know that they’re not alone in this situation and that other people have epilepsy, and these situations are common with people who have epilepsy.”
There has also been a lot of positive feedback from those participating in UPLIFT.
“Taking part in the UPLIFT program through Epilepsy Ontario was a fantastic experience,” says one participant.
“UPLIFT provided me with highly useful tools to better deal with the anxiety and doubt which revolves around living with epilepsy. The program administrators and facilitators were kind, supportive and knowledgeable of the program content but also of epilepsy and resources in general.”
Another participant applauds the program for the skills they have learned.
“I’m happy to be able to say I am in a much better place with the tools I have gained from this program,” says participant No. 2.
“If I am having a hard day (or) my seizures aren’t behaving themselves, I am able to fall back on the exercises learned through UPLIFT that work for me which allow me to carry on with my day in a positive state of mind.”
Click here to learn more about UPLIFT.