A free counselling service that has the potential to support the 20,000 people currently living with epilepsy Northern Ireland is now available for them, their families and carers. 

The Talk and Support service is run by Epilepsy Action Northern Ireland, and with the help of its specialist counsellors, the charity believes it can be the first point of contact for local people as they embark on their epilepsy journey, especially as waiting lists in Northern Ireland are the worst in the whole of the UK. 

The counselling support programme is free and confidential and can be accessed online and by telephone, through self-referral on the EpilepsyAction.org.uk website or by calling 028 9018 4015. 

People can seek support that suits them and their needs, with professional counsellors offering faster access to one off session or blocks of more intensive counselling support groups.

The roll out of the programme not only comes at a time when it can take between four to five years for an urgent referral in neurology, it also dovetails into the objectives laid out in the Northern Ireland Executive’s 10 Year Mental Health Strategy, launched last year. This strategy seeks to create a vision for Northern Ireland society by promoting emotional wellbeing and positive mental health for everyone, by supporting recovery, and reducing stigma and mental health inequalities.

Carla Smyth, manager for Epilepsy Action in Northern Ireland said, “Northern Ireland’s waiting lists are dire. Waiting up to 5 years for an urgent referral to see a neurologist is not acceptable for local people diagnosed with epilepsy and their families. At Epilepsy Action Northern Ireland, we are delighted to offer this free counselling service as it offers hope to people who can’t get instant help from their GP and who maybe can’t afford to pay for a private appointment.

“Being diagnosed with epilepsy can be frightening, and people often don’t know where to go to seek help. Our aim is that our qualified and specialist counsellors will be the first point of contact for people and give them advice, support and reassurance that they are not alone and support them longer term as they learn to live with an epilepsy diagnosis.” 

Feedback from participants that have engaged the 8-week programme reported that the sessions helped them “explore their emotions and gain a greater level of acceptance by realising that they can still live a full life albeit in a different way”.

Belfast comedian Paddy Raff, who’s sister Sarah, now in her early-30s has both epilepsy and other additional needs including cerebral palsy, is supporting the roll out of Epilepsy Action Northern Ireland’s free counselling support service.

He says, “As someone with a sibling with epilepsy, I am supporting Epilepsy Action Northern Ireland’s counselling service as it is something me and my family could really have benefited from when Sarah first had an acquired brain injury. 

“Back in the nineties there was no internet, so finding out information or people in similar situations wasn’t always easy. I know there are more online resources now, but they lack a personal touch. Putting a face or voice to conversations and being able to speak to a real person and not just looking stuff up is so beneficial and having facts that can be backed up with science is very important to ensure you are getting the right advice. 

“Although as a family we are able to manage Sarah’s needs, epilepsy is an ever-present threat, and my mum, who is Sarah’s primary carer, needs to keep on top of it. A counselling service such as this is great to help us understand more about epilepsy and to talk through what we were experiencing and what help was available.”

To find out more about the free programme please log onto www.epilepsy.org.uk @epilespyaction on Twitter @Epilepsy Action Northern Ireland on Facebook or call the Epilepsy Action Helpline on freephone 0808 800 5050.

Epilepsy Action Northern Ireland is supported by the Department of Health’s Mental Health Fund.