March is National Epilepsy Awareness Month – a time for Tasmania to go Purple and raise awareness of epilepsy and funds for local charity, Epilepsy Tasmania. Businesses, schools and individuals are encouraged to run purple-themed events during March – anything from a casual morning tea with a few friends to a day-long event with a few hundred staff or students.
Why? To get people talking about epilepsy, a condition that affects one-fifth of Tasmania’s population yet still creates shame and discrimination for more than half of those living with it. In Australia it is unlawful to deny people with epilepsy access to employment or any educational, recreational, or other activity because of their epilepsy.
Yet, research released during WorkSafe Month, Epilepsy – A Focus On Tasmania, shows significant barriers still exist at school and at work for people with epilepsy. Stigma and discrimination are significant contributors to poor physical and mental health in people with epilepsy.
Despite Australia being a high-income, developed nation, the World Health Organisation’s recent data reveals this to be a national problem, with 47 per cent of employed Australians living with epilepsy reporting unfair treatment in the workplace. Epilepsy Tasmania CEO, Wendy Groot, says the situation in Tasmania is even worse.
“Our research has revealed that 52 per cent of Tasmanians experience discrimination at work or school as a result of their own or a family member’s epilepsy. To reduce the likelihood of unfair treatment at school for children with epilepsy, the Minister for Education launched Epilepsy Tasmania’s Smart Schools training and awareness programme.
To reduce the likelihood of unfair treatment at work for adults with epilepsy, the organisation runs training to help workplaces become “Epilepsy Smart”.
“It’s not just employees who might have epilepsy – it could be customers, contractors, friends and family members who visit the business,” said Ms Groot.
“With one in 10 Australians experiencing a seizure during their life and one in 26 going on to develop epilepsy, seizures are not uncommon so we all need to know what to do and how best to support those people affected.
Between 2016 and 2019, Epilepsy Tasmania surveyed Tasmanians with epilepsy and their family and carers and has ascertained their main challenges to be almost exclusively related to social, cultural and economic issues.
Lack of public awareness and supportive environments free of stigma and discrimination are among their most pressing concerns. Tasmanians can help to make the situation in our state better for people with epilepsy by raising awareness and getting more of us talking about the condition.
Hosting a purple-themed event is the perfect way to do this during March – Purple Month!