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Written by Cynthia Coupé, CEO, Outreach Advocacy Resources and Services (OARS), Inc

January is Mental Wellness Month and I think it’s perfect time to talk about Neurodiversity. Simply said, neurodiversity is the difference among all of our brains, like fingerprints…no two are alike. Neurodivergency includes specific differences, such as autism, ADHD, anxiety or tic disorders (like Turrette’s).

While neurodivergency is not a mental health or mental wellness issue, being neurodivergent is related to significantly higher incidences of depression and suicide, particularly in the female population.

We don’t know exactly why this is the case, though of course there are often concurrent conditions (e.g. depression, bipolar, etc.) that can be present for someone who is neurodivergent. However…the reason for this is not necessarily because a neurodivergent brain is pre-wired to be depressed or suicidal. Research and experience tells a different story…basically, people who are neurodivergent (particularly autistic) mask their symptoms, meaning they try and hide them by acting how society expects a neurotypical person to act…and this hiding can cause anxiety and depression. Additionally, people who are late-idenitifed as neurodivergent often lack proper support, which can lead to feelings of isolation and depression.

Females who are neurodivergent often show different characteristics than males do and as a result, females are often misdiagnosed or missed altogether. In fact, women and girls with autism have a 3x higher rate of suicide as the rest of the population. A 3x higher rate of suicide. Why is this? Well…when you are misdiagnosed or missed altogether negative feelings about yourself are likely to occur, which can lead to depression and suicide.

Additionally, people who are neurodivergent have higher rates of unemployment than the general population (30% for ADHD and up to 85% for autism) which can lead to feelings of low-self worth, loneliness, depression, etc.

People who are neurodivergent have no innate ‘disability’ just a difference in the way their brain processes information. Thanks to neuroimaginge advancements, science is now beginning to find structural differences in the brain that causes these differences. Again, it’s not a brain defect, but actual structural differences that cause the brain to process differently. When our environment does not support our processing, we can break down. Maybe the environment is too loud, or bright, our tags are too itchy or we have to sit too long. When our biological need is not met, we can have breakdown due to a disruption in our cognitive, sensory or social processing. If we’re trying to hide this breakdown over hours, months or even years, it can certainly cause extra stress that then results in negative outcomes.

The longer we live in a disabling environment, the less we feel part of it. Lack of friends, poor understanding of self, leads to unemployment, depression, suicide.

Even though neurodivergency is not a disability, it can be disabling when society doesn’t understand how to support us, and we don’t understand our own needs and strengths. By incorporating self-advocacy and improving society’s awareness, we can improve outcomes for people who are neurodivergent.

Weather one is neurodivergent or not doesn’t particularly matter, we all want to belong, to feel part of something, to feel confident and cared for. And there is a lot we can do to get these feelings, even on our own.

Personally, I have a self-care routine that keeps me grounded and staying positive, no matter what is going on around me. I am neurodivergent, and I have seen that my own feelings of anxiety and discontent are greatly reduced when I consistently follow my care practices. For me, it’s meditation, regular exercise, time in nature, eating well, journaling and focusing on what I can do in service for others.

So, during January, I encourage you to think about your own self-practices that help you stay grounded, positive and mentally aware. Sometimes simple changes and routines can give great rewards.

Learn more about neurodivergency:

Cynthia Coupé is a neurodovergent speaker, coach, blogger and and parent who works in the field of DEI and education. If you are interested in following or working with Cynthia, please find her information at www.cynthiacoupe.com.