For those with epilepsy who also struggle with depression and anxiety, it can be difficult finding helpful mental health services that also consider the emotional effects of epilepsy. That is why researchers from EpLink, the epilepsy research program at the Ontario Brain Institute, have introduced UPLIFT to community epilepsy agencies in Ontario.
“Using Practice and Learning to Increase Favourable Thoughts,” or “UPLIFT,” is a mindfulness-based cognitive therapy program. Developed by Dr. Nancy J. Thompson at Emory University, the UPLIFT program was designed to help adults with epilepsy experiencing mood challenges.
Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy programs can be helpful for anyone with mood disorders. However, what makes the UPLIFT program different is how it caters to adults with epilepsy. Since it’s delivered over the telephone or videoconferencing, the program addresses issues like transportation, wait time, and cost barriers that traditional therapy may create in addition to the effects of epilepsy on mental health.
Recognizing these barriers, Dr. Kathryn M. Hum from EpLink explains, “we wanted to find a program that would allow folks to participate from the comfort of their own home, so it’s convenient for them.”
The UPLIFT program includes 8 semi-structured sessions that can be done over the phone or online. The sessions go over different ways living with epilepsy can affect mental health and teaches valuable coping strategies. Some topics focused on in the program include coping and relaxing, monitoring thoughts, and preventing future low moods.
Researchers at EpLink found that at six months and one year after participants completed the program, their depression and psychological quality of life scores remained improved.
“This was a finding we were happy with because we wanted to ensure that there were long-lasting effects. There is no point bringing a program to folks if it only helps them for a week after they finish,” says Hum.
In comparison to other epilepsy agency programs such as Clinic to Community, UPLIFT focuses more on mindfulness-based cognitive therapy and relating it to epilepsy. Still very useful, Clinic to Community focuses more on epilepsy education and is usually introduced earlier on in someone’s involvement with an agency.
“If someone is further along in their epilepsy journey, maybe they have been struggling with epilepsy for 10, 20, 30 years, they may know a lot about epilepsy already and already learned some strategies to deal with their mood. This is where UPLIFT could be more helpful,” explains Hum.“It focuses less on epilepsy education and focusesmore on very specific strategies that can hopefully add to their toolbox in terms of helping them alleviate symptoms of depression they may be feeling.”
Funds raised by Epilepsy Ottawa’s Fitness Challenge Fundraiser and this year’s Ottawa Fire Truck Pull will help the agency bring UPLIFT to Ottawa. Epilepsy Ottawa would like to launch the program in early 2021.
~ By Leah Burchill