The high prevalence of anxiety in neurodivergent individuals

female sitting in a ball

With Mental Health Awareness Week (themed around anxiety) draws to a close, many people will hang up their hats for a year, but it doesn’t stop for those living with anxiety.

I’m a counsellor specialising in supporting neurodivergent individuals. I want to draw attention to their specific difficulties with anxiety.

For those, with or without a diagnosis, being neurodivergent feels as though you don’t belong in the world. This causes high levels of anxiety because it’s natural for human beings to want to fit in; we’re social creatures, a sense of belonging is part of being in community with others.

Being neurodivergent isn’t something you grow into or out of, it’s evident from a young age. Some very young children will be aware of their differences(having receive very subtle messages); it will feel natural for them to exist in a hyper-vigilant state. Always watching, always listening to how to they’re ‘meant’ to be acting, what they’re ‘meant’ to be saying and how they ‘meant’ to be saying it, in order to appear like everyone else.

Socialising

4 female friends hugging

Neurodivergent individuals have specific difficulties with socialising. They may have very few subjects that interest them but may be aware that these do not interest other people. Skills such as knowing when and what to talk in large groups and being afraid of humiliation can be hard to neurodivergent individuals. It can be very hard to make and sustain friendships although loneliness is feared. The answer is not to force an neurodivergent individual to behave more neurotypical! This only leads to heightened anxiety—would you want to be friends with someone who wasn’t being themselves?!

Discrimination

High number of neurodivergent individuals are under or unemployed leading to feelings of unfulfillment or a lack of meaning and purpose. People do want to and are willing to work but so many aspects of work from interview to sustaining work are inaccessible. For example, the majority of interviews are face-to-face question-answer style, thinking on your feet, even if the job requires neither of these skills!

Neurodivergent individuals face extraordinary levels of stigma and discrimination. Just trying to receive basic care within a GP setting can be extraordinarily anxiety provoking. In some areas of the country, if you cannot use the phone (which some can’t), you’re denied an emergency appointment!

Hope

Coming to terms with being neurodivergent can be incredibly liberating. Finding the neurodivergent community can provide a sense of belonging like no other!

The up-tick in late diagnosed autistic and ADHD individuals doesn’t mean there are more people with autism and ADHD. It means there are more people who’re know equipped with knowledge about themselves!

If you’re feeling as though you might be neurodivergent, you may be questioning a diagnosis, counselling may be the place for you to ask these questions. Anxiety does not need to rule your life. Counselling can help you break free of the shame that society has been placing upon you.

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