Epilepsy is a psychiatric disorder or mental illness
It used to be thought that epilepsy was linked to the phases of the moon (hence the origin of the word ‘lunatic’). The truth is that epilepsy is a medical condition with a physical cause. People with uncomplicated epilepsy are no more likely to suffer psychiatric disorders than anyone else.
You can tell someone with epilepsy because they have a typical epileptic personality
In the middle of the last century when little was known about epilepsy it was thought that epilepsy was always inherited and always led to a deterioration of the brain and to imbecility and crime. At that time there was no treatment for epilepsy and it was very common for people with severe epilepsy to fall and suffer head injury during their seizures. Many became brain damaged because of these frequent injuries. Later, at the turn of the century, the only anticonvulsant which was available was bromide. At that time it was not possible to monitor the amount of bromide in the blood and so people had very high bromide levels and became toxic, with a consequent deterioration in their behaviour and intelligence. It was these two factors which led to the myth that all epileptics had the same deteriorating personality. We now know that unless there is associated brain damage, people with epilepsy have personalities which are like anybody else.
All patients with epilepsy are violent or criminals
This myth is really an extension of the previous one. At the turn of the century some people became violent either because they were suffering from bromide poisoning, or because they had become brain damaged by frequent falls during severe, uncontrolled seizures.
The myth was perpetuated for a time because some early studies of people in prison found that there were more people with epilepsy than would be expected. However, it is now thought that, in many cases, the epilepsy was caused because of head injuries. It was also demonstrated that their personality was such that even before they had epilepsy, they tended to get into fights. Taking this into account, the number of people with epilepsy who are in prison is no greater than in the general population. The truth is that people with epilepsy are no more likely to be violent or criminal than the rest of the population.
People who have epilepsy are mentally handicapped
This is untrue. Although many people who have learning difficulties also have epilepsy, only a few people who have epilepsy also have learning difficulties. These are the few who have severe brain damage, which causes both their learning difficulties and their seizures. But few people with epilepsy have brain damage of this severity.