00/00/2021

Swimming against the Mental Health tide

By: Pete Dillon, Business Consultant at the Fearless Collective

May is Mental health awareness month in the United States (Australia’s is in October) and as global citizens, we are all touched by mental health challenges in some way - either ourselves, a loved one, family member or close friend. 1 in 8 Australians are impacted by mental health in any given period and each year 1 in 5 Australians will experience a mental illness.

Mental health continues to have unnecessary stigma attached to it. Where a physical illness can be seen, mental health cannot, which means comments related to mental health must be measured, thoughtful and kind. If you see someone on crutches or in a cast, your immediate response is care – you ask how they are or how the injury occurred. Is it the same response where mental health is concerned? Rarely, because mental illness is often hidden for fear of judgement based on those societal stigmas. 

In early May, Elon Musk claimed to be the first person to host Saturday Night Live with Asperger’s. There is a great deal wrong with that sentence - firstly, Dan Akroyd hosted SNL in 2003 and has long identified as being on the Autism spectrum. Individuals on the autism spectrum are no longer referred to as having Asperger’s, as the term is named for the Nazi doctor who identified neurodiverse people for persecution and the term is no longer used as a diagnosis. People are diagnosed as being at a certain point on the spectrum. 

Australian Government Minister Dr Andrew Laming has returned from leave following allegations of inappropriate behaviour over recent times. Dr Laming announced in late April he had been diagnosed with ADHD, another kind of neurodiversity. Dr Laming appeared to blame his inappropriate behaviour on ADHD, which is refuted by a wide circle of his peers in the medical fraternity.

Citing neurodiversity as a reason for poor behaviour is not okay. Differences in the way our brain functions is very normal, and diversity of all kinds should be encouraged.

We cannot blame being a jerk on neurodiversity. How can we change the messages for neurodiversity - how can we start to really challenge the stigma attached not just to neurodiversity but all mental differences? There is so much we have to achieve - to challenge how we think about mental illness, to find ways of supporting rather than stigmatising individuals who identify their difference, and most importantly not using mental illness or neurodiversity as a panacea for bad behaviour.

We can drive the narrative - like we have in our sector many times before.  Messaging changed the way we viewed and reacted to the HIV & AIDS crisis and those affected by it. Messaging has started to change the way we view and understand those with physical challenges. It's time to move the dial on those which affect the mind.

Swim against the tide and start in the workplace – challenge what your peers and colleagues do in relation to mental health and neurodiversity awareness. You are the change and with the right messaging, we might just start to end the stigma and judgement.

Stay informed on all things wellbeing in the workplace and help your organisation thrive!

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