World Mental Health Day 2021
Today is World Mental Health Day 2021 and the theme this year is 'Mental Health in an Unequal World.' We live in a world where mental health inequality is rife. For those in marginalised communities, for those in poverty or just getting by its far worse. For autistic people, this inequality is especially true and the impact of mental ill health is widely felt.
I always struggle with this type of event because I feel they become a signalling tool, especially in the corporate world. A tickbox exercise attached to a shared hashtag with no visceral change at the grassroots level for those people who do live with mental ill health.
Autistic Mental Health
Furthermore, World Mental Health Awareness Day is about raising mental health awareness. Great. Very little of it refers to the mental health of autistic people however, a marginalised community if ever there was one. When it comes to mental health inequality autistic people could write the book. When it comes to mental health provision autistic people are unheard.
Follow some autistic researchers, advocates and a sprinkling of autistic charities and non profits on social media and you will hear more, but otherwise, even on a World Mental Health Day focusing on inequality, we are effectively excluded. Most of the conversations generated aren't about autistic mental health.
Yet, we as a community suffer some of the most shocking statistics I have read about mental health for any group of people.
Around 70% of autistic individuals have concurrent mental health conditions, 40% have two or more. Up to 66% of people have experienced suicidal ideation and one third have reported attempting suicide. Autistic people without a concurrent learning disability are 9 times more likely to die by suicide than non -autistic people. There are many more figures.
Behind these statistics are real individuals, people suffering. I am one of them. The impact of living as an unrecognised autistic person until adulthood, the lack of effective mental health treatments tailored to autistic people. It has had massive effects on my wellbeing and health. I know this is the case for a lot of autistic people.
I know about the lack of effective mental care and treatment, the trauma suffered through accessing services not designed for us, the over prescribing of medication, the fight for a diagnosis, the impact of late diagnosis, the lack of post diagnosis support, the masking and the rejection from society simply because our wonderful brains work in a different way to the accepted norm. I experienced a huge autistic burnout that led me to losing my job and career. I meltdown, I shutdown, I have experienced it all.
Post diagnosis I received no support. I was told I had Asperger' Syndrome, handed a leaflet with some charity links and informed that I either accept Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and anti-depressants once again or there was nothing they could do for my mental health.
I accepted neither, I needed accommodations, adjustments and acceptance, I didn't need fixed.
So, I shuffled out the door of the doctors office with the tears of thirty years of loss cascading down my face and promised myself with this key I had been handed I would open the new door and embrace my newly discovered identity.
Fast forward through a lot of personal graft and change and the result is Aupeer, a grassroots community interest company that provides autistic led peer support services for autistic adults. It took a while to navigate out of burnout, to face my diagnosis and retrain.
Peer support is not therapy, it can't cure. This is a good thing. Its about offering connection to your community, hope and empowerment. It's about sharing our stories with people with similar tales to tell, sharing our lived experience and our strategies for navigating this neurotypical world. It is a space to let the mask fall for a while. All of which is proven to help our mental wellbeing.
It's just a baby at the moment, we receive no funding and we are volunteer led, but we are here.
On this World Mental Health Day I'd like to say to the autistic community, a proud community, that you are heard. I hear you. Aupeer is for us.