Neurodiversity: Mental Health In The Workplace

Are you facing an unbearable wall with no one to turn to? Or are you told to move on, take a pill and just deal with it?

Let’s be honest, mental health in the workplace is not a new topic. We know it is an issue that will not go away and it faces resistance in environments where co-workers, managers and employers do not want to acknowledge mental health because it is ‘taboo’. What makes this more challenging is the lack of understanding that the mind and body are connected, which means poor mental health can and does affect the body. Yet, many individuals who deal with these issues daily are afraid to be open up to what they face, both with their family or on the job.

Now, let’s throw Neurodiversity on top of mental health.

When we put the two side by side, we see there are quite a few similarities: No one wants to acknowledge that the two exist in the workplace; there is an unwillingness to talk about the two; the work environment may not be safe to mention it and both are viewed as ‘taboo’ and no one wants to deal with them.

The combination of the two creates more stress or depression when it is compounded by the challenges that a neurodiverse individual faces on a day-to-day basis. Never mind adding that they may already be in a workplace environment that is not safe and where they don’t find adequate support, such as reasonable accommodations. For example, according to the Attention Deficit Disorder Association of America, a co-worker who has ADHD is 30% more likely to face difficulty in the workplace and 60% more likely to end up in the unemployment line.

Neurodiverse individuals deal with trying to manage themselves in an environment that caters to one type of talent pool. Thus, they deal with the stress of trying to adjust, complete their task, prove they are the right person for the job and deal with the managers, co-workers and employers who see them as difficult to work with. This leads to stress and anxiety, which in turn, means that their job performance will be affected, as well as their communication with team members and physical ability to do the job.

As a result, Neurodiverse employees may take sick days, time off, choose to leave their place of employment for the sake of their mental health or in the worst-case scenario, even consider suicide. In fact, in a UK survey on mental health, those individuals who were dyslexic reported committing self-harm and having suicidal thoughts.

Employers have to understand that their employees spend much of their lives on the job. Let’s do some math: The average employee works 40hrs a week, minus say 4 weeks for vacation and sick days; s/he stays on the job from anywhere between 5 to 10 years, so let’s aim for an average and estimate 5 years. If we take 40 hours times 5 days, multiply that by 48 weeks and multiply that by 5 years, that equals 48,000 hours of their life that an employee will spend in a place of employment.

With these numbers and Neurodiversity, how then can we say that Mental Health is not an issue?

Oh wait, what about the Neurodiverse employee who may have a shorter span in the place of employment? Remember the sample stat of average ADHD employee who struggles in holding a job? What is their mental health like, when they struggle with having no job, trying to pay the bills and putting food on the table, while then having to go through the recruitment process all over again in less than 5 years?

When we put all these into perspective, we can understand why a Neurodiverse individual may suffer both from self-esteem and confidence issues. As this builds up, it can lead to depression, be followed up by showing up late for work, displaying poor performance on the job and distancing themselves from colleagues, or the other way around.

So, what are some practical solutions that we can apply to change the company’s Culture?

For starters, employers should start the conversation by having material such as leaflets around the workplace. This can be followed with workshops and team-building exercises as well as with organising sessions to teach employees stress management techniques like mindfulness.

Like Neurodiversity, we cannot address and offer solutions to mental health if we don’t change the culture and talk about it.

Be People-Centric

Being People-centric is where you put your employees’ needs first. When businesses follow this path, employees are both more committed and engaged. Managers display the understanding and emotional intelligence to ensure they meet the needs of their team on a personal and individual level. In return, they will have more proactive and productive team members.

Provided Incentive

Employers can make available either subsidized schemes or even free medical qualified professionals outside the place of business to encourage staff to attend. Businesses can also offer health insurance to cover private mental health care or alternative therapies such as acupuncture.

Check-in with your managers

Employers and HR need to reach out to Managers individually to ask how their teams are progressing. Are there any issues, red flags and interventions that need to happen? Managers must encourage their teams to ‘take time out during the workday to refresh and recentre themselves.

In some places of work, they have created a quiet room where an employee can destress through actions like mindfulness, looking for silence or even taking a 10min power nap, which science has shown helps to improve memory and productivity.  Is this something you can add to your workplace?

Closing point

Choosing one or two of these suggestions can make an enormous difference in an employee’s life especially when that team member is Neurodiverse and may be dealing with feeling overwhelmed and being stressed.

Many employers realise that there needs to be a balance in work and provide the support that is not just task-focused. They provide team building, mental health and even spiritual workshops. All of these are aimed at developing a happy employee who enjoys going to work, is focused and productive.



Looking to make a change of diversity and inclusion for the neurodiverse in your company?  then click here for a consultations

Listen to this topic and others like it on my podcast Take A Leap & Transform: A Neurodiversity Journey


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