by Dr. Lorin Bradbury

Question: Almost every week the medics in Bethel respond to someone having a seizure. What is a seizure and how does it affect our mental health?
Answer: Diagnosis and treatment of seizures is outside the scope of practice of most psychologists. However, I have minimal training in recognizing seizures and where to refer if someone reports possible seizure activity.
To give you a good definition of a seizure, I went to the Mayo Clinic website: “A seizure is a sudden, uncontrolled electrical disturbance in the brain. It can cause changes in your behavior, movements, or feelings, and in levels of consciousness. If you have two or more seizures or a tendency to have recurrent seizures, you have epilepsy.”
I can probably do better with the second part of your question, “How does it affect the mental health of the person experiencing seizures?”
Seizures can affect your memory by impacting your ability to take in, store, and retrieve information. If seizures are uncontrolled and frequent, they can impact the ability to learn and even reduce one’s ability (IQ) level.
From my years of practice, I recall working with two patients that suffered from memory loss due to seizure activity. The more dramatic of the two was many years ago, while I was in training. Prior to being psychologically tested, two aneurisms had been successfully removed from my patient’s brain. I say successful because she survived the surgery and could walk and talk. However, she could no longer count and read. She had taught herself to recite numbers one to ten, as long as she said them quickly and in a series. However, she no longer retained any comprehension of the meaning of numbers or of words.
As I worked with her, she would squeal with excitement as she learned that four items equaled the number 4, and those four items plus four items equaled the number 8. However, when she returned for each session, it was found that she had not retained the information, and we would have to start all over again.
One day I observed her having a seizure, so I contacted her neurologist and reported what I had observed, but he was certain it was not seizure activity, and he refused to refer her to a clinic that specialized in seizures. I then referred her directly to the seizure clinic and found that she was experiencing almost continuous seizure activity. Once her seizure activity was controlled, she began to retain information and the last I heard, she was studying at a community college.
Another mental health issue is the fear that results from having experienced a seizure—a fear that it is going to happen again. One young lady, who experienced seizures, wrote the following: “I’ve had epilepsy for barely 4 years and I had to postpone learning how to drive and starting college. I’m scared to still do either because what if I do have one and there’s no one there to help me. I’m still so depressed and angry about it.”
As you can read from her statement, “she is depressed and angry.” This individual may benefit from therapy to address her fears, and to address her emotional issues and to problem solve how to live.
Lorin L. Bradbury, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Bethel. For appointments, he can be reached at 543-3266. If you have questions that you would like Dr. Bradbury to answer in the Delta Discovery, please send them to The Delta Discovery, P.O. Box 1028, Bethel, AK 99559, or e-mail them to [email protected].