It is time that epilepsy be demystified

Dear Editor,

I was pleased to read that the Guyana Epilepsy Foundation will attempt to change public attitudes towards epilepsy by expanding awareness.   It is true that many Guyanese (but not only Guyanese) still hold archaic attitudes towards the neurological condition.

I myself suffer from epilepsy (detected in 2006 while teaching in class, the location of my first ‘grand mal’ seizure). Although I am open and frank about its form and impact on my life, like others I have had to navigate the stigma and awkward reactions to the condition that many in Guyana still view as ‘fits’ and the mostly negative implications that go along with the term.

I remember quite distinctly while in the third form at Central High school in the 1970s there was a teacher, Mr ‘Slabby’ Phillips, who suffered from epilepsy. As schoolboys we would laugh when Mr Phillips suffered a seizure (‘fits’ to us) although the symptoms would dissipate after a few moments. In spite of his condition, we respected this pleasant and capable teacher; we assumed, however, he had a mental health problem. Nothing could be further from the truth, and looking back at the time I am embarrassed at our reaction to his ailment. Unfortunately, time and science have not fundamentally changed public perceptions of epilepsy in Guyana or elsewhere.

Epilepsy differs from person to person in intensity and duration but should be treated humanely and with understanding. The Foundation, in expanding its work and collaborating with others is on the right track in facilitating public awareness of the condition. It is past time that epilepsy (and for that matter cancer and Down’s syndrome and other illnesses and conditions) is demystified.

Yours faithfully,

Nigel Westmaas

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