As we continue to honour Neurodiversity Celebration Week this week, it’s essential that we recognise the challenges that neurodivergent individuals in our society face, including the increased risk of suicide.
While the concept of neurodiversity promotes acceptance and inclusivity, there is still a long way to go in addressing the unique mental health needs of neurodivergent individuals. By shining a light on the risks of suicide among those affected, we hope to raise awareness and encourage action to promote appropriate support and care.
Neurodiversity is a term that has gained popularity in recent years, especially in the context of mental health. It refers to the idea that people have different neurological abilities and differences, and these differences should be respected and valued, rather than stigmatised. Neurodiversity covers a wide range of conditions such as autism, ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, Tourette’s syndrome, and many more; and while the societal understanding around neurodiversity has certainly improved in recent years – thanks to more information and better representations in the media – there is still a lot of work to be done in recognising the risks of suicide in this population.
It is no secret that suicide affects millions of people worldwide. In the UK, it is believed that over 3.3 million people struggle with thoughts of suicide a year, however what is less known is certain populations are at a higher risk of suicide than others. Among these populations are individuals with neurodivergent conditions, such as autism spectrum disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and bipolar disorder.
One of the reasons for this increased risk is the social stigma surrounding neurodivergent conditions. Many people with neurodivergent conditions report facing discrimination, bullying, and marginalisation in society, which can lead to feelings of isolation, hopelessness, and despair. These negative experiences can significantly impact mental health and increase the risk of suicide.
Neurodivergent individuals can also be exposed to certain social and emotional challenges that often accompany some conditions, such as autism. Individuals with these conditions may struggle with social interactions, communication, and emotional regulation, which can also lead to feelings of isolation, loneliness, and despair.
Another reason those who are neurodivergent are at a higher risk of suicidal thoughts comes from the additional barriers they might face when trying to access mental health support and resources, including stigma, discrimination, misdiagnosis, and a lack of understanding from healthcare providers. The lack of understanding, particularly from those within the healthcare system, can inevitably take a significant toll on how a neurodivergent individual feels in themselves, and ultimately lead to a sense of aloneness.
In some cases, neurodivergent conditions can be misdiagnosed, or even go undiagnosed for many years. A misdiagnosis can have a profound impact on the mental health of a neurodivergent individual. It can lead to feelings of confusion, frustration, and mistrust of medical professionals. Misdiagnosis can contribute to a sense of identity crisis and a lack of understanding of oneself; for neurodivergent individuals, who may already face societal stigma and discrimination, a misdiagnosis can compound these negative experiences and further isolate them from support and resources
To address and minimise the risk of suicide in neurodivergent populations, there are several things we can do as a society. Firstly, we need to increase awareness and understanding of neurodivergent conditions, particularly among healthcare providers and mental health professionals. This can help ensure that neurodivergent individuals receive appropriate and effective support and treatment for their mental health challenges. It is also crucial that healthcare professionals take the time to conduct thorough evaluations and consider all possible diagnoses to ensure accurate identification and appropriate treatment for neurodivergent individuals.
Secondly, we need to reduce stigma and discrimination towards neurodivergent individuals by promoting inclusive and accepting attitudes and behaviours. This can include education campaigns, social media campaigns, and community events that celebrate neurodiversity and promote acceptance and understanding.
Finally, we need to provide accessible mental health support and resources to neurodivergent individuals. This can include training mental health professionals to better understand and support neurodivergent individuals, increasing funding for mental health services, and developing support groups and peer networks for neurodivergent individuals and their families.
The risk of suicide is prevalent in neurodivergent populations, and we need to take action to address and minimise this risk – not just during Neurodiversity Celebration Week, but every day. By increasing awareness and understanding of neurodivergent conditions, reducing stigma and discrimination, and providing accessible mental health support and resources, we can create a more supportive and inclusive society for all individuals, regardless of their neurodiversity.