The New York Times has a surprising article about stigma surrounding epilepsy in Sierra Leone that describes some quite astounding beliefs about the condition.
Stigma here is based on two myths: that epilepsy is contagious and that it is caused by demonic possession. Dr. Lisk is quick to point out that beliefs about possession traverse societal boundaries. “You think it relates to level of education, of literacy, but somehow it doesn’t,” he said. “Sometimes it’s the most educated people who will tell you that it’s demonic. They say it’s in the Bible.” (Some biblical references to possession have long been thought to describe people with epilepsy.)
As a result, discrimination against people with epilepsy here is blatant and unabashed, and it begins in elementary school. “The school authorities often ask the students with epilepsy to leave,” Mr. Bangura said. “There is the notion that epilepsy is contagious; so when somebody has an attack during school, the perception is that if somebody happens to step on the spittle of an affected student, that would be one way of contracting the disease.”…
“Wherever the kid fell, they circle it and tell people to stay away from it, because that spot is a bad spot,”…
While these beliefs seem outlandish, the idea that epilepsy is caused by demonic possession is still common among many Western churches.
And if you’re still not convinced, this page has a testimony from the Bethel Church of how a blind man with epilepsy was not only cured of his seizures but also had his eyeballs grow back (suck on that Big Pharma!)
Needless to say, there’s plenty more where that came from, so we still have a way to go before even the most bizarre forms of stigma are defeated in the supposedly educated West.
Link to NYT piece on epilepsy beliefs in Sierra Leone.