Trying to understand epilepsy

Recently, the issue of seeing epilepsy as an invisible disability surfaced when the Epilepsy Care Group (Singapore) registered for a sporting event.

Just because symptoms are not physically visible when we look at a person struggling with epilepsy does not mean he is not struggling internally.

While there is no universal agreement on whether epilepsy is a disability, most of the European Union countries view it as a disability.

The United States has its Americans With Disabilities Act and the expectation is that most First World countries would also see epilepsy as a disability - an invisible disability, just like diabetes and some mental illnesses.

Living with an invisible illness often leads to judgment because others believe these people look fine on the outside, and therefore must be "faking" their suffering.

Unlike having a condition that is observable, people who live with invisible illnesses often face a lack of social awareness and additional stigma.

As a result, these individuals often face more scepticism, and are accused of being lazy, or moody, or face other dismissive judgments.

Here is a painful paradox: Life can be perfectly normal for weeks or months. But then, through a quirk of the brain, a person with epilepsy can wake up on the footpath with a cut tongue, dislocated shoulders, soiled clothes and a crowd of onlookers who may not always be sympathetic. An invisible disability has become visible again.

The suffering caused by epilepsy is both physical and psycho-social, bringing about enormous consequences in every area of living and functioning to persons with epilepsy, their families and society at large.

Attitudes towards people with epilepsy are influenced by the extent of knowledge about the condition.

Acceptance of people with epilepsy is so crucial to give them the social and psychological space they need. This can only come from awareness of what epilepsy is.

It is the hope of the Epilepsy Care Group (Singapore) that society will come to know the problems that people with epilepsy face, and work towards improvements.

Goh Keng Hwee

Executive Director

Epilepsy Care Group Singapore