One in five Canadian adults will struggle during their lifetime with some sort of mental disorder. This translates into more than four million adults who are dealing with possibly debilitating mental symptoms that affect their ability to live, work, and be productive. The cost of mental disorders, both treated and untreated, totals fourteen billion dollars annually. This cost doesn’t take into account the pain, suffering, and challenges of a neurodivergent adult, who may spend their whole adult lives attempting to survive in the workplace. Out of the ten leading causes of disability in developed countries, four are mental disorders, and despite this, almost half of all neurodivergent adults refuse to seek help. Let’s consider the reasons for this: shame, denial, abuse, or simply just the inability to do so.
Now, with this in mind, let’s consider. The probability is quite high that, of all the people in your workplace, about a quarter of them live with mental health struggles. But would you know this, if nobody told you? The problem with invisibility disabilities – such as depression, substance abuse, and others like this – is that if they’re not disclosed, they won’t be accommodated. Realistically, even if they are disclosed, in many workplaces, accommodations aren’t given. We are misconstrued to be lazy, attention-seeking, or attempting to get out of a job. In today’s working world, it’s hard to be taken seriously if you don’t act or perform the same way everybody else does. As a neurodivergent adult, I’ve always found the workplace to be unkind, unwelcoming to those of us who perform in different ways.
There are pros and cons, of course, to disclosing a mental health issue to one’s colleagues. Like any other health issue, it can lead to isolation or judgement if misunderstood. Like many other health issues, it can be accommodated by accepting, understanding colleagues. But the chance of this is slim, for those of us whose brains function differently than the norm. Neurodivergence in the workplace is a gander, a risk many aren’t willing to point out, and simply struggle with silently in order to be treated fairly. The question is: is it really worth it to hide your mental health issues at work?
Canada-wide, suicide is the leading cause of death among men ages ten to fifty, and the fourth leading cause among women. This begs the question: why are men more likely to die by suicide than women, and why are they still not taken seriously? The question answers itself, of course. From a young age, men are told to be stoic, tough, taught that they can’t be a man unless they’re brave, and this is undeniably harmful. When it comes to the workplace, this mindset of stoicism and emotionlessness makes men struggle in silence, scared that they will be laughed at or dismissed for speaking out. Neurodivergence in the workplace is nothing new, and yet it’s still not understood. When it’s not understood, it cannot be accommodated.
With all of this said, there is only one way to make neurodivergent workers feel welcomed in their place of business. As an adult attempting to work with mental health issues, I can be the first to tell you it isn’t easy to find an environment that makes me feel at home. There is only one way to make neurodivergent workers feel welcomed, and that is to understand us. Do not deal with us in a way that is surface-level, a refusal to get to the root of it all. Do not treat us in a way that is reserved for the stupid, or the difficult, or the unpleasant. We are none of these things, purposefully. To understand is to open your mind to knowledge, to information you may not have been exposed to before. To understand is to listen, not in a way of judgment, and not in a way of close-mindedness.
To end the stigma behind mental illness, we all must understand it. To understand, we first must listen. To listen, we must be educated. Education starts with you, and it starts with me. We cannot learn if we are not taught.