Sunday, January 13, 2008

Coping With Epilepsy


I CAME across a rather alarming report which said that people with epilepsy are three times more likely to commit suicide than the general population. Featured on BBC Online recently, the report by Danish researchers in the Lancet Neurology study added that women with epilepsy were more likely to kill themselves than men with the condition.

The study, conducted from 1981 to 1997 by the Aarhus University Hospital team, called for greater efforts to control seizures, which could be stigmatising, and had many knock-on effects. Even after taking into account factors such as mental illness, job status, income and marital status, people with epilepsy were twice as likely to kill themselves. And people who had been diagnosed with epilepsy within the previous six months were more than five times more likely to commit suicide.

People with both epilepsy and a psychiatric illness were nearly 14 times more likely to commit suicide than people with neither condition. The trend among the general population shows that the risk of suicide increases with age. But the researchers found that, in the case of people with epilepsy, the risk of suicide fell as they grew older. The BBC report also pointed out that, once diagnosed with epilepsy, patients lose their driver’s licence and miss out on opportunities. Drug treatment may decrease fertility too.

One person with epilepsy who is clearly on top of the situation is Serene Low from Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur. The 47-year-old is doing a wonderful job raising awareness about her condition. Serene wrote to me recently to update me on what’s been happening in her life lately.

“I was at the Suntec Singapore International Convention & Exhibition Centre last month to attend a symposium for people with epilepsy and their care-givers. What an uplifting experience it was. I was in the company of people from all over the world who have epilepsy. We shared personal experiences and learnt about the latest news from the support groups,” wrote Serene.

There were about 200 participants at the symposium, and delegates came from as far as Argentina, Austria, Japan and New Zealand. International presenters spoke about how epilepsy affected the lives of children, adults and older persons.

“What impressed me most is the fact that many positive changes can be achieved for people with epilepsy if support groups, government bodies and the corporate sector worked together to enhance the quality of lives for those living with epilepsy.”

During her stay in Singapore, Serene had the opportunity to catch up with two of her Filipino friends, Rose and Jeanne.

“Rose updated me on the progress of her epilepsy awareness work in Iloilo, a province in the Philippines,” explained Serene. “Rose educates public transport drivers, and people working in banks and shopping malls, about epilepsy and ways to help an epileptic in the event of a seizure.
As a result of her untiring efforts, stickers such as ‘Epilepsy-Friendly Bank’ or ‘Epilepsy-Friendly Shopping Mall’ are being placed in areas where the Filipinos have taken their messages to,” said Serene.

“Jeanne also raised a pertinent point: she would like to see more financial sponsorships to enable people with epilepsy to participate in the conferences. I agree with her wholeheartedly.”

“It’s vital for people with epilepsy to make ourselves seen and be accepted by society as normal people,” she added.

Source: The Star paper

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