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ND Mental Health

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Life can be difficult at times for any child, young person, or adult. 

But for Neurodivergent (ND) people (Autistic/PDA/ADHD), the struggles they experience can be quite different from other people, and processing these experiences is harder as they may hyper-fixate on what has happened (spend a lot of time overthinking and analysing), which can greatly increase the emotional and mental toll that it takes on them. 

This may be one of the reasons that professionals believe that NDs are more likely to experience mental health difficulties. 

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The textbook definition of mental health is:

 · How we feel about ourselves and others.

· Our ability to make and keep friends and relationships.

· Our ability to learn from others and to develop psychologically and emotionally.

· Having the strength to overcome the difficulties and challenges we face in our lives at times; and

· Having the confidence and self-esteem to make decisions and believe in ourselves.

 

When any or all of the above are negatively affected, it can lead to mental health problems such as anxiety, depression, eating disorders, panic attacks, self-harm, suicide, and trauma.

 

Possible situations that may cause ND mental health difficulties

  • Struggling to make friends or being rejected by peers.

  • Struggling to understand social rules (what to say or do, how to react, and what is expected of you by others).

  • Being socially naïve and not being able to recognise deception or nastiness easily.

  • Being stopped/not being allowed/being punished for stimming (rocking/flapping hands/fidgeting/etc.).

  • Punishment for behaviour that is out of their control.

  • Sensory sensitivities that are not being supported.

  • Poor or undeveloped sensory regulation skills.

  • Difficulties coping with change.

  • Low emotional regulation.

  • Difficulty or being unable to recognise or understand their own and/or other people’s emotions.

  • General or social anxiety.

  • Autistics have an exaggerated cortisol (the stress hormone) response to new or (perceived) threatening situations and sensory input.

  • Difficulties disengaging from negative thoughts, distressing or stressful memories.

  • Not being able to keep up in school.

  • Knowing that they are different and feeling that they do not fit in with their peers.

  • Feelings of powerlessness.

  • May lack the same social interests/skills/friendships with their peers and do not feel understood, supported or comforted by others when dealing with problems.

  • Lack of effective support at school or home.

  • Not understanding why they are different (if not diagnosed or do not know they are Autistic/PDA/ADHD and what that means)

  • A belief that they are stupid or incapable due to their diagnosis difficulties.

  • Focusing on what they struggle with rather than what they are good at.

  • Feeling shame because of their challenges or wanting to be like their peers.

  • Reactions or lack of understanding from others when they have a meltdown.

  • Family stress or problems at home due to their specific needs that they feel responsible for.

  • Being in an environment that they are unable to cope with or escape from.

  • Being non-verbal and being unable to communicate their needs easily or at all.

  • Feeling that there is something wrong with them.

  • Not being in control.

  • Masking excessively which can cause them to be confused about who they really are.

  • Having their needs dismissed, belittled, misunderstood or ignored.  

  • Professionals, teachers, or parents having low expectations of them as they do not think they can achieve more.

  • Poorly organised transitions.

  • Being labelled as ‘naughty’ or ‘lazy’ or ‘stupid.’

  • Death in the family or death of the family pet.

I know that the list above is pretty depressing, especially if you are experiencing some of them, but with the right support, understanding, and connecting with other NDs, these struggles can be overcome.

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If you are worried about your mental health and would like to speak to someone about it, but don't feel able to speak to someone in your family or your friends; please speak to your GP, social worker, or someone in your school/college/university, and they help get you the support that you need.  There are also different local and online support groups that may be able to help.

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