Mental health and the neurodiversity paradigm

When considering the landscape of mental health, we also have to consider the normalisation of stigma and the dehumanisation of those who are struggling.

Since the advent of psychiatric medicine, mental health concerns have been described in pathological language. What if we used the language of the neurodiversity paradigm? How would it impact the wellbeing of those with lived experience if we recognised “mental illness” as a form of neurodiversity on a global level?

In my own personal experience, recognising my voice-hearing as neurodivergence has helped mitigate some of my distress. Knowing that my brain is different, rather than broken removes the pressure to fix myself, and instead has encouraged me to engage with talking therapies that are teaching me to co-exist with my personal experiences.

Don’t misunderstand me, there are still plenty of times when I feel broken. Such is the episodic nature of my mental health.

Reframing our mental health experiences as natural variation of minds, rather than sub-human errors in a computer may help many people by removing the self-blame that so many of us in the mental health community experience.

Rather than “you are broken and need fixing” we can consider the much more nuanced approach that there are infinite variations of the human mind, living in a world designed for one predominant style of brain. It seems natural to me that such a world would be incompatible with many people, and as such we experience suffering.

No longer do we take medicine to fix a broken mind, but instead to support our wellbeing in a world that causes our suffering.

Of course, we should mention access to diagnosis. Many of us miss out on our part in the neurodivergent community because our diagnosis is wrong or incorrect. While the general attitude in neurodivergent communities is that diagnosis is a privilege and not a requirement, we need to push to make sure that people acquire appropriate diagnosis in a timely manner. We need to make sure that it is an accessible option for all.

Eventually, however, I hope, a world will exist where diagnosis is a thing of the past. Where we can live in a neurocosmopolitan society such as that posited by Dr. Nick Walker. A world in which no one group has privilege. A world where we can all co-exist. A world a long way off perhaps, but still a world I will fight for.

Once we start realising that diagnostic criteria for ALL mental health is based on the neurodivergent person in distress, we have to become curious about what these neurodivergent minds would look like in a world that didn’t cause them to suffer. What a beautiful neuroculture we could build. A curious thought to say the least.

Published by David Gray-Hammond

David Gray-Hammond is an autistic mental health and addiction advocate living in the South East of England. He is in recovery from addiction and psychosis, as well as other complex mental health conditions. He was diagnosed as autistic seven months after achieving sobriety, and is resolved to share his experiences with the world in the hopes of being the person that he needed when he was younger.

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