Time to end negative stigmas surrounding multiple sclerosis

Mark Webb is tired of shoppers thinking he is drunk
Mark Webb is tired of shoppers thinking he is drunk

A concerned man living with multiple sclerosis is determined to raise awareness about the disease after experiencing years of prejudice.

Mark Webb, 47, of Dunstable, has joined forces with the charity MS Society, as they release new findings exposing the stigma people with the condition often face.

The survey shows that almost half (45 per cent) of people who have MS feel they have experienced mistreatment because of their symptoms, while the most common experience is being accused of drunkenness because they are having trouble walking (49 per cent).

Mark, who was diagnosed aged 39, said: “I held off on using a walking stick for as long as I possibly could, so there was a time when I was unsteady on my feet. On more than one occasion I heard comments from people who thought I was drunk.”

Over 100,000 people live in the UK with MS, yet 76 per cent of those believe that the public’s awareness of the disease is low or very low.

The condition attacks the nervous system and symptoms typically appear when people are in their 20s and 30s, including sight loss, disability and fatigue.

It is often described as unpredictable, as one day a person might be fine and then the next day they may lose their sight or be unable to move.

Dealing with the disease can be frightening, especially if facing abuse alone.

Mark said: “Once I was walking with the aid of a stick back to my car, which was parked in a disabled bay. As I was getting into the car, five or six teenagers started shouting abuse at me for being disabled.

“They surrounded the car, blocking it so that I couldn’t drive away. They only left when I used my phone to call the police. I got home and sobbed. The experience had made me feel vulnerable.”

The survey also showed that family and friends can make a positive difference to those living with the condition.

Michelle Mitchell, chief executive of the MS Society, said: “ The results of our survey are unacceptable and by releasing them we hope to challenge these outdated, negative perceptions.

“This is a condition that is already challenging to live with and this stigma and misunderstanding is making life even harder for those who live with the condition.”

The results also showed 63 per cent received help from a partner, 40 per cent from immediate family and 34 per cent from friends – an important reminder to look out for others in the community and not to judge.

The MS Society helpline can be telephoned on 0808 800 8000.