By Neha Kinariwalla
I know we all like to think that wrong perceptions of epilepsy are a thing of the past. But the 20th century brought along a new form of cultural fascination. And while much has been learned about the actual causes of epilepsy, there is something to be said about the public idea of the disorder. We may not notice this at first but think back to Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, featuring a little dwarf named Dopey, had seizures at night.
Not all of the depictions of epilepsy are quite as loveable however. Oliver Stone’s JFK shows a person with epilepsy implicated in the presidential assassination and people with epilepsy are shown in practically all of the television series we see today. Movie characters with epilepsy are often out of their minds, and this contributes to stereotypes. You may think “So? It’s just a movie, I can tell it’s exaggerated!” But there’s a grave problem in this. Epilepsy is multifaceted and a layered disorder. The depth to which the American public understands the disorder is quite shallow, and this leads us to subconsciously link epilepsy to danger.
Maybe it’s because epilepsy looks a bit scary. It seems violent, and it’s the concept that people lose control of their bodies- even if it’s for a split second. When we think of the word seizure itself, it doesn’t have a particularly appealing connotation. To take hold, to capture by force, to grab…
But the first step to overcoming these presumptions is through understanding epilepsy. Stigma and unfamiliarity of epilepsy is still prominent in the USA. In a study conducted by Austin J.K in 2002, 22% of American adolescents confessed they did not know whether or not epilepsy is a contagious disorder (It’s not! For the record). By bringing these issues to light, we’ll hopefully reduce this All-American Stigma.