Mental health and neurodiversity – a relationship made in the brain

A person standing on a beach reflected in the sea

The term mental health dates back to 1859. It is a very subjective term because there are many different definitions for it. Mental health refers to the way individuals think, feel, and behave in life. It’s also very relative because it can change depending on what is happening in an individual’s life or what they are thinking about at that moment.

Neurodiversity is the idea that people may have differences in the brain that cause them to think differently than others.

What is the relationship between mental health and neurodiversity?

The American Psychological Association defines the term “mental illness” as a “health problem that involves changes in thinking, mood, or behaviour (or some combination thereof) associated with distress and with interference with daily functioning.”

Mental illnesses can be treated by therapy or medications – both of which are designed to change these symptoms.

The mere presence of a mental illness or even a perception of mental illness can have a negative effect on an individual’s wellbeing. This is because the emotional stress that comes from a mental illness can cause many people to feel misunderstood, isolated, and stigmatised.

Is mental health and neurodiversity intricately linked?

Mental health is not a sickness, it is a way of life that can be enjoyed by everyone. However, people who experience mental illness often may not know that there is anything different about their brain.

Equally, neurodiversity is not an illness or a sign that a person’s brain is damaged. However it’s possible that neurodiversity can lead to poor mental health. For example, individuals on the autism spectrum are more likely to experience anxiety disorders, depression, and other mental health conditions.

Mental health is about more than just diagnoses. The term encompasses subjective well-being, self-esteem, and social functioning. These are all things that are important to neurodivergent people.

Neurodiverse people may be more likely to experience poor mental health issues than neurotypical people due to factors such as discrimination, sensory stress, anxiety or trauma and social isolation.

This is why it is important to be open with people with mental health issues and have a conversation about what they’re experiencing or what may be troubling them. It is important to signpost people towards the right kind of support that will best meet their needs.