To tell or not to tell: A systematic review of the disclosure practices of children living with epilepsy and their parents

A Benson, S O'Toole, V Lambert, P Gallagher, A Shahwan, J K Austin

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

42 Citations (Scopus)


Disclosing an epilepsy diagnosis to others is complex due to the condition's largely invisible nature and associated stigma. Despite this, little has been documented in terms of what this process involves for children living with epilepsy (CWE) and their parents. A systematic review was conducted to examine and synthesize evidence pertaining to: (i) the disclosure practices of CWE and their parents, (ii) enablers and barriers for disclosure, (iii) the impact of disclosure practices, and (iv) the relationship between disclosure management and other variables. The electronic databases PsycINFO, PubMed, MEDLINE, CINAHL, Scopus, and Web of Science were searched systematically. Any empirical, peer-reviewed journal articles with findings reported regarding the self- or proxy-reported disclosure practices of children aged 0-18years with any type of epilepsy and/or their parents were deemed eligible for inclusion. Two review authors completed all stages of screening, data extraction, and quality assessment independently with two additional review authors resolving any discrepancies. A total of 32 articles were included in the review. Only one dated study examined disclosure as a primary focus; in the remaining studies, disclosure was a subfocus of larger studies or pertinent qualitative themes/subthemes incidentally emerged. The limited evidence suggests that: 1) CWE and parents adopt varying disclosure management strategies - from concealment to voluntary disclosure; 2) disclosure decisions are challenging for CWE and parents; 3) many barriers to disclosure exist (e.g., fear of stigmatization and rejection); 4) only a limited number of factors that enable disclosure are known (e.g., openness by others to engage with and learn about epilepsy); 5) disclosure management is significantly related to a number of variables (e.g., child/maternal perceived stigma and seizure control); and 6) there are varying outcomes for CWE and/or their parents in accordance with the adoption of specific disclosure management strategies (e.g., disclosure resulting in greater acceptance and the receipt of support or evoking anxiety/fear in others; and concealment resulting in misunderstandings, embarrassment, and stigma-coaching), but the evidence remains inconclusive in terms of which disclosure management strategy is optimal. While some preliminary work has been conducted, disclosure of epilepsy is a topic that has been largely neglected to date. This is despite the fact that disclosure is a significant source of concern for CWE and parent populations. Future studies should focus on elucidating the unique contextual factors that inform disclosure decisions in order to develop a theoretical framework that can explain the epilepsy disclosure decision-making process.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)73-95
JournalEpilepsy & behavior : E&B
Early online date08 Aug 2015
Publication statusPublished - 01 Oct 2015

Bibliographical note

Copyright © 2015 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


  • Adult
  • Child
  • Epilepsy/psychology
  • Fear
  • Humans
  • Parents/psychology
  • Social Stigma
  • Stereotyping
  • Truth Disclosure


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