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“There’s a huge ignorance among students”

Student campaign aims to raise awareness about epilepsy within Scottish Universities

by Mireia Jimenez

Courtesy of Aaedan Brennan

Despite being one of the most common neurological conditions in the world, awareness about epilepsy is absent within UK Higher Education institutions and the student body.

A total of 600,000 people are diagnosed with epilepsy in the UK, which comprises 1 in 103 people.

The Gaudie interviewed Epilepsy Scotland Policy Campaign Officer Anna Telfer and University Ambassador Orla White regarding the lack of information and awareness about epilepsy in Scottish Universities.

“There is just a lack of understanding about what epilepsy is, a lot of people think it is just seizures but is much more than that. There are issues with short-term memory, stress and tiredness; all of that impacts the way people study” Orla said.

Anna mentioned how universities need to “make sure they [students with epilepsy] are aware of what they are able to ask for”.

“Our resources are flexible in a way that they cover all seizure types” Orla said, and “a good resource for universities” to add on their websites.

The Gaudie also interviewed Chloe Smith, a university student with epilepsy at Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh and Epilepsy Scotland Volunteer about her experience and work with the organisation.

“We’ve emailed all of them [Scottish Universities] and we have not had many responses, however, the University of Aberdeen was one of the few to reply.”

She spoke about the importance of specialised epilepsy support in Scottish Universities.

“At university, it is typically young people [attending], and a lot of people are diagnosed with epilepsy when they’re teenagers, so by the time they get to university [...] they haven’t had it for that long and are struggling. The last thing you want is to tell everyone about it and what to do.”

“Universities disability and mental-health services provide mentors and counsellors, but they are not specialised in disability and it is usually general counselling. If there was someone who specialised in that disability it would be much more helpful.”

She also remarked how important it is to recognise different types of seizures caused by epilepsy and how they affect memory.

“There was one time when I had an exam and I had been studying every day that my epilepsy allowed me to for three months, and on the day of the exam I had a very small absent seizure that just wiped my memory, and I was unable to do the exam. It is the most frustrating thing.”

Additionally, a University of Aberdeen spokesperson said to The Gaudie:

“The Student wellbeing Team aim to raise awareness of epilepsy, the support available for students and how they can support someone with epilepsy when they need it. This is part of the team’s 365 project that aims to promote support and celebrate the diversity of the University’s community throughout the year and not just on specific awareness days. Over the last year, the Wellbeing Team promoted an Epilepsy Scotland webinar that explored how epilepsy impacts learning with both our staff and students.”

Regarding the availability of staff trained to deal with epileptic seizures, the spokesperson said:

“All first aiders receive training as part of a 3-day first aid at work course which will cover the appropriate treatment for an individual having an epileptic seizure. The University has more than 140 trained First Aiders.”

The University of Aberdeen does include Epilepsy Scotland’s student guide in their well-being page, unlike other Scottish Universities.

The Gaudie also contacted a former Aberdeen University History student with epilepsy, Charis Brady, who graduated in 2020.

“I made UoA aware of my disability during the application process and I did receive a form to fill out if I wanted any additional help [...] From my experience, it was clear I would receive any support if I wished.”

When asked about staff preparedness regarding epileptic seizures, she commented:

“I took a tonic-clonic seizure in 2017 [...] It’s hard to recall as it was a few years ago now and I was semi-unconscious but I’m sure a staff member from Hillhead had attended too and called paramedics. I assume most staff have very basic training on how to handle epileptic seizures, but I think it should be required for all staff and should be more than just basic.”

When asked about how academic staff responded to her condition, she said “every professor I’d had to mention this too was great, so understanding and they expressed genuine concern. “

When asked what could be done better, she remarked how “there’s a huge ignorance amongst students.”

“The biggest issue is people have one image of what a seizure looks like and what causes it when in reality there are so many types of epileptic seizures. [...] Some got worried, and I’d have to reassure them I’d be fine. I wish there was more information, especially about the different kinds of seizures, how many people it affects, etc., so people see it and relax a bit more and then they’ll be able to learn how to look after us instead of panicking.”

To learn more about epilepsy you can visit Epilepsy Scotland’s website, as well as read their student guide.


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