Epilepsy still has strong social stigma for sufferers


One of the main issues for those with epilepsy is other people’s reaction to it, writes MICHELLE McDONAGH

MORE THAN half of people with epilepsy in Ireland have experienced stigma and persistent negative attitudes as a result of their condition, a new national survey reveals.

The survey, carried out by Brainwave, the Irish Epilepsy Association, marks the second annual European Epilepsy Day today.

The survey reveals that many people with epilepsy (56 per cent) do not feel comfortable telling their employer and work colleagues that they have epilepsy even though 70 per cent feel comfortable telling their friends and family members.

Many people with epilepsy found that the attitudes of their employers and work colleagues towards them changed after they told them of their epilepsy.

Mike Glynn, chief executive of Brainwave, said research had shown that there were 37,000 people living with epilepsy in Ireland and the results of its national survey indicated that for more than half of those people, stigma was an ongoing social reality.

Despite the fact that epilepsy is the most common serious neurological condition in Ireland, public awareness and understanding of the condition remained poor, Mr Glynn said.

“Common misunderstandings include the belief that epilepsy is a mental illness, that it is contagious or that people with epilepsy are limited in terms of what they can achieve in their lives.

“There are also common misconceptions regarding seizure first aid which can be dangerous for the person with epilepsy,” according to Mr Glynn.

As part of its ongoing effort to challenge negative perceptions and stigma associated with epilepsy, Brainwave has been running a series of national radio advertisements.

The charity has also incorporated a series of interviews on its website ( epilepsy.ie), with people with epilepsy.

Brainwave patron Rick O’Shea said: “I was diagnosed with epilepsy at the age of 16 and I have a real difficulty with being referred to an ‘epileptic’ and people referring to ‘fits’ instead of ‘seizures’.

“We want this campaign to show that people with epilepsy work, play sports, drive cars, sing out loud in the shower and live as full a life as everyone else.

“In fact, one of the main difficulties with epilepsy is other people’s reaction to it.”

For information, advice and support on epilepsy, visit epilepsy.ieor call Brainwave on tel: (01) 455 7500.