Blog: Neurodiversity and Mental Wellness
Though neurodiversity is often confused as being a mental health and wellness concern in need of “curing”, it is an aspect that deserves celebrating. However, neurodiverse individuals remain susceptible to comorbid mental health concerns which are deserving of attention.
By Jordan Clark Marcichiw, ESPC Volunteer
What is Neurodiversity?
The term neurodiversity was coined by Judy Singer in the late 1990s as part of a self-advocacy movement aimed at increasing the inclusion and acceptance of all neurodiversities. (1) Neurodiversity is a term which describes “differences in the brain that cause some people to think, learn, process, and behave differently” (2) and is typically associated with conditions such as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and Dyslexia. Neurodiversity Movement advocates argue though neurodiverse individuals may experience challenges which may cause varying levels of difficulties or (dis)ability, they also have strengths, live meaningful lives, and are deserving of equitable opportunities and rights. (3)
Neurodiversity and Mental Wellness
Unfortunately, neurodiversity can be misunderstood as a mental health or wellness condition in need of changing and “fixing.” This is not the case. The terms mental health and wellness refers to “a state of mental well-being that enables people to cope with the stresses of life.” (4) Though difficulties associated with neurodiversity can be reduced through building off existing strengths and equitable supports, it is not a state that can change or be “cured.” Nor should it be changed or cured, as advocated by the Neurodiversity Movement. (3) This is not to say, however, that neurodiverse people cannot experience mental health or wellness issues. Much like the general population, neurodiverse people can experience fluctuations in their mental wellness as they respond to day-to-day stressors. Similarly, neurodiverse people can experience accompanying mental health disorders. In fact, people with ADHD, dyspraxia, or ASD are more likely than the general population to also be diagnosed with anxiety or depression. (5) Reasons for this may include genetic factors (5) but could also result from social marginalization and having to pretend to be “normal.” (6) For example, recent studies have found connections between autistic masking (pretending and hiding neurodiverse behaviours to appear “normal”) and higher rates of stress, anxiety, and depression, as well as exhaustion, a loss of identity, burnout, and suicidal thoughts. (6)
How Can We Support the Mental Wellness of Neurodiverse People?
- Embrace and include neurodiversity. Ensure you and spaces such as your social circle or workplace are respectful and inclusive towards neurodiverse individuals. Be accepting and ask them what support looks like to them, understanding that neurodiversity may look different for everyone.
- Provide equitable options and support. Treating neurodiverse people equitably allows them to receive the support they require. Initiatives such as sensory friendly shopping hours are a great example.
- Advocate. Advocate for more training and funding for mental health practitioners skilled in supporting neurodivergent individuals.
Jordan Clark Marcichiw (she/her) is a social worker who is passionate about spreading knowledge and advocating for systems change for the betterment of all individuals. Her personal interests include hiking, kayaking, skiing, playing slopitch, reading, and adventuring with her pup.
- Baumer, N. (November 23, 2021). What is neurodiversity? Harvard Health Publishing. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/what-is-neurodiversity-202111232645
- Palumbo, J. (December 31, 2022). How to build an inclusive recruitment process that supports neurodiversity in the workplace. Forbes. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/jenniferpalumbo/2022/12/31/how-to-build-an-inclusive-recruitment-process-that-supports-neurodiversity-in-the-workplace/?sh=7eb0159a3a04
- Bailin, A. (June 6, 2019). Clearing up some misconceptions about neurodiversity. Scientific American. Retrieved from https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/clearing-up-some-misconceptions-about-neurodiversity/
- World Health Organization (June 17, 2022). Mental health: strengthening our response. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/mental-health-strengthening-our-response
- Kirby, A. (August 26, 2021). Is there a link between neurodiversity and mental health? Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/pathways-progress/202108/is-there-link-between-neurodiversity-and-mental-health
- Stanborough, R.J. (November 19, 2021). Autism masking: to blend or not to blend. Healthline. Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/health/autism/autism-masking