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American students' worst case of bullying: misunderstanding the condition of epilepsy

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Bobby, a third grader, warily walks past the crowded hallways of his new school. As he walk, suddenly, the nightmare happens again. The familiar jolt sends him falling backwards and he has no control of the incoming jerks in his body. As he hears the faint of students screaming, bright light clouds his vision and all goes white. Bobby wakes up with the nurse and the principal nearby. Surrounding him are fixed eyes of elementary students. Some of them are whispering to themselves with their shocked reaction about the strange “new” kid and how they are going to avoid him. Bobby feels humiliated that his dark secret is exposed. Only the school nurse know Bobby’s secret: he has epilepsy, a serious disorder that affects the lives of “65 million people worldwide” (Citizens United for Research in Epilepsy, pg 1). According to the British Journal of Learning Support, epilepsy is “the most common paediatric neurological disorder” in which the brain experiences a disruption of nerves in the brain resulting in a seizures (Epilepsy in school-age children, pg. 1). People living with epilepsy are often frowned upon and are given less opportunities due to their distasteful, misunderstood condition. Because of this stigma, parents of children with epilepsy are anxious for the well-being of their children, both physically and socially. This stigma against people who face epilepsy should come to an end. Epileptic people are just like other individuals with talents, traits, and aptitude. Opting them out because of their epilepsy is discrimination that should not be tolerated. Because of epileptic people’s misunderstood condition, secret fear, and physical struggle, society must build sympathy for these individuals and respect them by giving equal opportunities and proper acknowledgement.

Epilepsy is one of the health disorders that have been stigmatized due to the lack of awareness amongst a population. Epilepsy is a misunderstood condition, thought to be “associated with a mental illness.” When, in actuality, epilepsy is a physical condition that can be medically treated to reduce the seizures. It is not a contagious disease, but it is a genetic disorder. Many non-epileptic people often “inappropriately react to seizures” due to their belief that “all epilepsy patients suffer from severe seizures” (School Adjustment in Children with Epilepsy, pg 1). This belief is due to the “lack of the knowledge of epilepsy” (Stigmatizing Feelings and Disclosure…, pg 22).

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All because of ignorance, this inappropriate reaction towards this epilepsy creates unnecessary discrimination which negatively affects the lives of epileptic individuals. A survey revealed that “significant numbers also thought people with epilepsy should be banned from professions such as teaching and nursing.” The belief that epileptic people “should be banned from [particular] professions” suggest that epileptic people are incapable of pursuing particular professions, further downgrading these people by tying their condition to their aptitudes (Public Knowledge, pg. 1408). Another study reveals that marriage rates for epileptic people is “27.3%” and the “divorce rate was 54.8%” (The Stigma of Epilepsy and its effects on marital status, pg 1). The low rates of marriage and fairly high divorce rates amongst epileptic people arises a question: Is it true that epileptic individuals are incapable of pursuing these professionals or making good spouses? Definitely not. The truth, however, is that this limit increases a report of emotional distress amongst people faced with epilepsy. In order to decrease misconception of epilepsy and suppress the discrimination and emotional distress of epileptic people, health organizations, schools, and other educational institutions should push to educate the public of epilepsy in order to build widespread understanding, This understanding is a necessary first step to demolishing widespread ignorance and gradually leading to a population that would offer these people with equal opportunities and proper acknowledgement.

Due to their misunderstood condition, many individuals with epilepsy fear disclosure of the condition and exercise a variety of disclosure or concealment strategies. Anxiety and secretiveness about their condition feeds the terrible stigma towards epilepsy. Statistics from the International Bureau for Epilepsy reveals this phenomena in a study amongst children with epilepsy and their parents. According to a research, fifty-four percent of people report feeling stigmatized (47.3% mild-moderate stigma, 6.1% high stigma).The results show that “36 per cent of children (aged 2-19 years)” have “kept their epilepsy a secret” and “23% of parents kept their child’s epilepsy a secret”. These numbers tell a story of fear – fear of the high possibility “that the child with epilepsy would be treated differently” by their peers and other parents (Stigmatizing Feelings and Disclosure, pg 22).

In order to ravel their child’s condition, parents would establish strategies that result in detrimental psychological effects on their children, such as changing schools, which increases the negative impact of epilepsy in their lives. These detrimental psychological effects includes “increased rates of psychopathology, reduced social interactions, reduced social capital, and reduced quality of life” (Public Knowledge, pg 1405). “Personal anguish and unhappiness” are also the expected outcomes from the concealment techniques (Social stigma for adults, pg. 7). Maintaining these strategies negatively impacts the child’s social and psychosocial development and quality of life, resulting in a lifetime of avoiding from people due to their condition. Unfortunately, the less these people are open about their condition, the more other people are unable to understand epilepsy. Lack of understanding brings nonacceptance. People do not deserve to undergo this stigma with persistent apprehension of whether people will deny or ocrastize them all because their epilepsy. So organizations should not only push to educate the public about epilepsy, but “address negative coping strategies and challenge negative coping strategies and challenge negative assumptions in people with epilepsy themselves” (Social Stigma For Adults, pg. 8). While doing addressing the terrors of these strategies of concealment, there should be a establishment of support groups amongst epileptic people. Connecting these fearful people with other people experiencing epilepsy will decrease their fear and increase the support needed for acceptance.The plummet of fear will decrease the stigma.

On top of the lack of awareness of the public about their epilepsy and fear that arises from being unaccepted, people disregard the physical struggle a person with epilepsy faces. There are epileptic people worldwide who are not receiving the necessary treatment to decrease the harsh effects of the seizures, medically known as “a sudden electrical discharge in the brain which results in an alteration in sensation, behavior or consciousness” (Epilepsy in school-aged children, pg 1). The duo of lacking treatment and awareness feed the stigma of epilepsy due to the unfortunate attacks of seizures. A study on people in Benin, an African country, found that 90% of people with epilepsy are in need of treatment “but are not receiving it.” Consequently, lack of treatment and care amongst epileptic people can “have serious consequences on morbidity and mortality rates.” Statistics from the Benin study manifested that “70.0% [of the people with epilepsy] had a high frequency of seizures (at least two seizures per month)” (Sociocultural and psychological features, pg. 1066). This high frequency rate of seizures is due to the lack of treatment amongst Benin epileptic people.

This study manifests that epileptic people who are not provided treatment will continually face the physical struggle because of a condition they are born with. If living universal stigma against epileptic people hinders them from receiving them necessary treatment and continues to thrive because of the untreated seizures and effects of epileptic people, then no one is helping anyone. People with epilepsy in trapped in the situation of lack of treatment are victims of their society.The humanitarian medical organizations need to reach out to these individuals and provide them with the necessary treatment to ease their physical struggle.

Epileptic individuals, like innocent third grader Bobby, should not be subjected to stigma because of their misunderstood condition, their fear, and their physical struggle. They are well-functioning, but unfortunate, people who are just as capable of contributing to the well-being of a community. Because they are born with this common disorder, people should not give a reason to discriminate epileptic people and limit their opportunities. Because they are human beings with vivid mindsets, epileptic people need love and support in order to refrain from damaging their self-esteem and fully accept their condition. Because they are struggling like any minority group, epileptic people need to be acknowledged and respected. Society needs to embrace these people with the physical struggle of epilepsy, and it can all start from the first step of awareness. A first step of awareness in a society may start from an educated individual at a time. Start now with online resources for the sake of the epileptic brethren!

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