This idea aims to improve the mental health of neurodivergent individuals in the UK, a group that is often overlooked and whose unique experiences with mental health are not addressed by general mental health campaigns. It is crucial to implement policies that specifically address the mental health needs of neurodivergent individuals in the UK because their struggles with conditions such as depression and anxiety can be directly linked to the public’s lack of understanding of neurodivergence.
One example of how a lack of understanding of neurodivergence can contribute to a person’s worsening mental health is when they engage in stimming behaviour in public. This behaviour is more often than not met with dehumanisation and social isolation because it is perceived as strange and abnormal, leading to feelings of worthlessness and social fear for those born neurodivergent. Such feelings grow over time as they are unfortunately experienced on a daily basis, ultimately creating long term mental health struggles.
To support the mental health of neurodivergent people, it is therefore necessary to educate the public on the behaviours that individuals with conditions like autism or ADHD may exhibit, and to emphasise that these differences are not inherently negative. This must be done as early as possible to limit the exposure of neurodivergent people to social othering, and therefore this initiative would operate best within primary and secondary schools.
School assemblies can be an effective way to raise awareness about neurodivergence and promote understanding and acceptance within the school community. There are a few key areas that these assemblies could focus on in order to achieve this goal.
To raise awareness about neurodivergence in schools, it is important for students to have a basic understanding of what neurodivergence is and how it can manifest. This could include information on different types of neurodivergence, such as autism and ADHD, as well as common characteristics and behaviours associated with these conditions. It is also crucial to emphasise that neurodivergence is nothing to be ashamed of and that it is a natural and important part of the diversity of the human experience.
Another important aspect of school assemblies on neurodivergence could be to highlight the successes of individuals with neurodivergence. This could involve sharing stories and examples of famous or successful individuals who have neurodivergent conditions, such as climate activist Greta Thunberg or author Matt Haig. By showcasing the achievements of these individuals, it can help to challenge negative stereotypes and demonstrate that neurodivergence does not limit one’s potential.
Building upon the previous point, inviting neurodivergent speakers to speak in front of students could be a powerful way to raise awareness about neurodiversity and promote understanding and acceptance. By hearing first-hand accounts from individuals who have neurodivergent conditions, students could gain a deeper understanding of what it is like to live with neurodivergence and the challenges that may be faced, promoting a sense of empathy that would be difficult to attain by only speaking of neurodivergence in an abstract hypothetical sense.
Finally, school assemblies on neurodivergence could also provide strategies for supporting peers who have neurodivergent conditions. This could involve discussing ways to be an ally and advocate for neurodivergent individuals, such as standing up for someone when they are being made fun of for exhibiting different behaviour to their peers like lack of eye contact or a monotone voice, as well as tips for creating a welcoming and inclusive environment for all students, such as not withholding friendliness from peers you perceive as awkward or unsociable. It should essentially be stressed to students that social isolation of neurodivergent peers is often not done with malicious intent, but that does not mean it is not harmful. By providing these strategies, it can help reduce the likelihood of bullying and other forms of exclusion that typically follow neurodivergent people into adulthood.
Other ways to raise awareness about neurodivergence and prevent bullying in schools are through education and training for teachers and staff. This could involve providing professional development opportunities that focus on neurodiversity and how to support neurodivergent students in the classroom. This could include information on common characteristics and behaviours associated with neurodivergent conditions, as well as strategies for creating a welcoming and inclusive environment for all students. This would allow for teachers to better recognise the bullying and social isolation of neurodivergent students and act quicker to resolve it, which can be crucial in preventing lifelong negative outcomes for these students.
As well as this, schools can create awareness about neurodivergence by promoting inclusivity and acceptance through specialised events and initiatives. This could involve hosting diversity days in which the broader topic of diversity is discussed, and participating in campaigns such as Neurodiversity Celebration Week. By participating in these events and initiatives, schools can demonstrate their proactive commitment to neurodiversity awareness and demonstrate to students the seriousness of this subject.
To effectively implement these ideas and address the mental health needs of neurodivergent individuals in the UK, it is essential to involve neurodivergent individuals in the planning and execution of the initiative. This could involve consulting with neurodivergent individuals and organisations, as well as seeking input from neurodivergent students and parents. By involving neurodivergent individuals in the planning and execution of the policy, it can help to ensure that the needs and experiences of neurodivergent individuals are accurately represented and taken into consideration.
In conclusion, this idea endeavours to systemically enhance the mental well-being of neurodivergent individuals in the UK over time by fostering understanding and acceptance among young people. This is vital because neurodivergent people’s tendency to develop conditions such as depression and anxiety can be directly linked to a lack of understanding and acceptance of neurodivergent behaviour by the general public. Overall, it should be clear that these commitments, even if only partially implemented, would increase the long-term mental well-being of members of our society who are too often forgotten about, and therefore be a key step in helping to ease the ongoing mental health crisis among adolescents.