Personal experience of epilepsy is behind the support being offered by Na h-Eileanan an Iar MSP Alasdair Allan to Epilepsy Scotland’s new ‘time to talk’ campaign.
Dr Allan is co-convenor of a cross-party group set up by Epilepsy Scotland, and is one of the politicians supporting their new campaign.
Diagnosed with epilepsy as a teenager, Alasdair has experienced some of the practical challenges of living with the condition, and is able to empathise with how it can affect the mental health of others with the same diagnosis.
Alasdair said: “I had my first seizures when I was 17 and they would initially happen every few weeks.
“I was fortunate in that it was brought fully under control by medication about 15 years later, but of course it came at the age when I would have been learning to drive and meant that I was not able to get a driving licence.
“I eventually passed my test just before the 2007 election, so I actually did most of my campaigning for that election by bus and hitching lifts, from Back to Barra, which clearly demonstrated to me just how difficult it is not having a car in a rural island area.
“I have experienced a few instances of discrimination as a young person, and I know that lack of understanding by employers and other people was far more widespread in earlier years, so I can see how older people might have had far more negative experiences in their lives.
“For a lot of people life gets really difficult. People can experience discrimination, they can become isolated and the practical issue of not being able to drive might lead to them being unable to get a job that fits their skills and qualifications.
“That in turn can lead to lack of confidence, low self-esteem, isolation and other mental health issues which can have a big impact on life quality.”
Alasdair’s personal experience has led him to join the call this week for people who live with epilepsy across the Western Isles to take part in a survey, which Epilepsy Scotland hopes will build understanding.
Alasdair said: “While public understanding of epilepsy is much greater than it used to be, it is important to continue to raise awareness and to highlight that the condition is more than seizures.
“This national survey from Epilepsy Scotland is an important tool in aiding our understanding of the affect epilepsy can have on mental health and what specific support is required.
“Talking about mental health is rarely easy, but I would encourage as many people as possible to take part.”
Lesslie Young, chief executive of Epilepsy Scotland, said: “We are pleased to have Alasdair’s support in promoting our ‘It’s Time to Talk about Epilepsy’ mental health survey to people living in the Western Isles and across Scotland.
“Epilepsy can have a significant impact on a person’s mental health and almost every person we support through our national helpline is affected by mental health struggles.
“To someone living with uncontrolled seizures, there is a significant psychological impact of never knowing when the next seizure is going to happen. For some who have controlled seizures, the medication can have side effects which affect mood and mental health.
“I would encourage anyone living with epilepsy to share your experiences through our survey, to ensure your voice is heard.”
The survey will run for six weeks, closing on Monday 13 March. To participate, go to https://www.epilepsyscotland.org.uk/mentalhealthsurvey/
The picture shows Alasdair with mental health campaigner and former Labour MP Danielle Rowley at the launch of the campaign in Edinburgh.