The Stem of the Stigma

We’ve talked a lot about the stigma of epilepsy in all parts of our life: in school, at work, at home, and in general. We’ve mentioned why these stigmas are wrong, and how we can change them. But where did these stigmas come from? Where did they originate? Research has shown that epilepsy has been feared, and stigmatized for years, in many different parts of the world. Every culture had their own explanation, and their own beliefs on what it was, and how to get rid of it. Although there are slight variations, most lie along the same lines, and the misunderstandings have a lot of common ground. Here are some flashbacks of the stigma:

                The Hammurabi code, dating back to 1750 B.C. once said that a person with epilepsy could not marry or testify in court. They believed that they were not good enough to reproduce, or even be slaves. In fact, the Hammurabi code stated that if a slave was sold, and then found to have epilepsy, he could be returned.

                The myth that epilepsy is contagious is still prevalent today. It started in the early Christian church, clergy and synods segregated the “possessed” from the “faithful”. Christians were afraid that people with epilepsy would taint holy objects with their “evil” breath and their “unclean and deaf spirit”! Up until the 18th century, epilepsy was still believed to be contagious. A professor from the 18th century once wrote: “Therefore, neither talk nor bathe with him, since by their mere breath they infect people”

                In the late 19th century, it was commonly believed that people with epilepsy were frequently violent, anxious, and were prone to terrible hallucinations. They believed this was also related to religious ecstasy.  In fact, the Arab-Persian manuscripts in 600 A.C. also referred to epilepsy as a disease caused by demons. It’s these beliefs that cause the fear, the misunderstandings, the rejection and the stigmatism.

                Although we have made progress in terms of understanding epilepsy and educating ourselves and others, the stigma still exists. While “demons” may not be the center of the stigma today, people with epilepsy still face discrimination in school, at work, and in their social life. It’s important to continue to educate and advocate for people with epilepsy so that they too may live healthy and happy lives.  


“EpilepsiaVolume 44, Issue Supplement s6, Article first published online: 18 AUG 2003.” The History and Stigma of Epilepsy. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Nov. 2013. <>.

“Epilepsy Stigma.” N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Jan. 2013. <>.



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