There was a 25% increase in people living with epilepsy...how to normalize the stigma?

By Ruchelle Buenaventura 

In August 2017, the CDC released data that claims epilepsy rates are increasing. (See original paper here). In total, 3.4 million Americans were reported to have epilepsy, with Virginia taking up 2.47% of the national total. 

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What does this mean for Virginia?

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While 2.47% may seem like a smaller portion of the whole, the CDC reported a total of 84,100 Virginians to be living with epilepsy.  This is a 4,100 increase in the last 5 years from the priorly recorded 80,000 Virginians living with epilepsy.  NHIS data indicates of the rise in epilepsy due to population growth or other unknown factors. 

In Virginia, 73,800 adults and 11,000 children are living with epilepsy. Virginians should consider epilepsy as a normalized disorder, rather than a rare condition. While the prevalence of epilepsy growing, it is important to reduce the stigma against it. 

Normalize the stigma

1. Talk about epilepsy

A big part of increasing awareness is dialogue. Efficient dialogue creates room for questions, answers, and conversations that progress acceptance about epilepsy. Openly talking about epilepsy makes others more inclined to listen. Articulating one's thoughts about epilepsy also helps address concerns that may be bottled up inside. This helps others empathize to a point of understanding. 

2. Understand that epilepsy is a livable condition

Many epilepsy heroes live successful lives by being able to manage their epilepsy efficiently. From precautions with stress and diet, taking proper medication, and having friend/family support, patients are able to pursue normal lives. Epilepsy is a sacrifice, but acceptance is key to surviving with in. 

3. Accept epilepsy and add purpose to your life

Everyone has challenges they through in life, whether it is epilepsy or other life problems. Finding purpose in life, whether a passion, career, or family, can offer you ways to side-track epilepsy and focus on other aspects. Some may say, "Yes, I have epilepsy, but I am still looking forward to X." This change of mindset may be difficult at first, but it has long-term effects. 

4. Help yourself

You are strong for living with epilepsy. Successful epilepsy heroes tend to practice self-care. Practicing self-care reduces stress and promotes gratitude. Self-care is important because it affects your overall wellness. Having good wellness helps those with epilepsy manage stress, have better relationships with others, and improve outlook in life. 

5. Join the community

There is no better support than speaking with others who know what you are going through. Everyone is at different stages of their lives, epilepsy diagnosis, and etc. However, the epilepsy community is part of this fight together. The Epilepsy Foundation of Virginia has a "Virginia Network", where volunteers who live with epilepsy provides the public with their contact information to be a voice of support to those who need them. Check out our calendar and attend events to familiarize yourself with the EFVA community! For those interested, support groups meet once a month in different regions of Virginia.

If you have any further questions, please contact srb3m@virginia.edu or rb8wx@virginia.edu