As a person with epilepsy, one of my major bugbears is the way the condition is treated in the media, especially the tendency to equate it with mental illness.
A recent article in the Daily Mail Epileptic man stabbed his noisy neighbour to death with a fish knife in row over eviction made my blood boil so much that I just had to send the following email of complaint to their letters editor:
I was shocked and saddened to read your report of the man who killed his neighbour over a dispute about noise.
There are two main areas of concern with Emily Allen’s report.
The term “epileptic” is used in the headline and copy as almost a justification for this man’s murderous behaviour, particularly when placed alongside his mental health problems. In fact, his having epilepsy was of no relevance to the story whatsoever.
Epilepsy is not synonymous with mental health problems – it is a neurological condition caused by abnormal electrical impulses in the brain. These are not caused by the chemical imbalances which can be found in mental health conditions.
Relating this man’s violent crime to his epilepsy only serves to reinforce ill-informed prejudices and the unnecessary stigma which people with epilepsy incredibly still face. If he had had asthma, would your headline have been “Asthmatic man stabbed noisy neighbour”?
I was also disappointed by your use of the label “epileptic”. As a person with epilepsy, I refuse to be defined by the condition. It’s just a very small part of who I am – I am not “an epileptic”.
In the same way that you would surely not refer to a “Downs Syndrome baby” in this day and age, it would be fantastic if people with epilepsy could be granted the same respect.
I didn’t get a reply, but then I didn’t really expect to. I just had to do something to let them know that what they had written was unacceptable. If it makes them think twice in future, all the better.
Sending that email also prompted me to take some more positive action by signing up as a media volunteer with Epilepsy Action. It would be an honour to be involved in something which would encourage and reassure women with epilepsy that they can go on to have the families they dream of.