Why ND is not a health issue

It’s high time we clarified the absolute difference between neurodiversity (ND) and mental health issues, writes ND champion and Train to Win CEO Julie Mills.

Last month marked Mental Health Awareness Week and social media was full of IT channel companies participating in this important initiative. It’s great to see businesses so enthusiastic about promoting the mental health agenda, but I do get irritated when neurodiversity unthinkingly gets pulled into the mental difficulty debate.

Neurodivergent conditions like ADHD, autism and dyslexia are not mental health disorders. Saying they are incorrectly labels neurodivergent people as having poor mental health which is misleading and wrong. Mental health and wellbeing is of course rightly seen as being fundamental to a productive and happy workforce – but it can be a complex area, and neurodiversity is not a sign of bad health.

So it’s time to clear up the ‘confusion’ between mental health issues and positive differences in neurological function. This confusion, I think, is reinforced by undetected neurodiversity and the general lack of neuro-inclusion in workplaces.

Undiagnosed or undisclosed neurodiversity can be a barrier to acceptance, communication and mutual understanding in the workplace. There are many people who either don’t know they are neurodivergent (they typically suspect they are different and are self-conscious about it) or who know they are but are fearful of ‘coming out’ to colleagues despite being gifted with an ability to think outside the box (they typically mask their ND traits because of the associated stigma).

Jobs need ND skills
This issue was debated in the House of Commons in April with Matt Hancock MP (who is dyslexic) saying: “Straight line thinking can be done by computers, but future jobs will need skills such as creativity, lateral thinking and enhanced communication that are often more prevalent among those who are neurodiverse. It is great to see some employers proactively hiring neurodivergent people, but if people do not know they have a condition they will not be empowered to do what is necessary to make the most of those extra skills.”

As well as missing out on these vital skills, business leaders who are not inclusive across neurotypical (NT) and neuro divergent groups will likely be presiding over disharmonious workplaces where NT people feel confused and resentful over the perceived ‘special treatment’ of others, and ND people feel disempowered and exposed to deeply uncomfortable working practices – all potentially leading to conflict, absenteeism and drops in productivity.

Therein lies the only connection between neurodiversity and mental health deterioration, caused by work environments that fail to address every employee’s individual needs, whether NT or ND. In a neuro-inclusive workplace both sides understand each other and the ultimate goal is harmony.

Businesses with great cultures breed harmonious working environments. This doesn’t mean everyone is the same. Quite the opposite in fact. The harmony comes from individuals respecting one another while working towards common goals and achieving success.

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