Why Mental Health Awareness Month is failing Autistic people
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. The bitter irony that this comes immediately after the dreaded Autism Awareness Month/Autism Acceptance Month is not lost on me. After a month of fighting hard to be heard over the corporations who monetise our existence, May can feel quite offensive in its positioning of mental health.
We need people to learn about mental health. I will never say we don’t need that. Psychological distress is a heavily misunderstood and stigmatised state of being that threatens not just a person’s wellbeing but also their life. The problem is that when you are Autistic, discussion of mental health can be infuriating.
For as long as we’ve existed, psychological distress has been ignored in us. I often think of my own 14 year journey to get a schizophrenia diagnosis from psychiatrists who would tell me I was “just anxious” and that anxiety was “normal” in autism. Normal. Professionals have come to see our suffering as acceptable, and therein is where the problem lies.
There is no acceptable level of distress. However, the institutions that are responsible for our wellbeing have created the concept of normalised suffering because it shifts the focus off of the structures and power imbalances that traumatise us at every turn. Rather than change the parts of society that do harm, they label the fallout as “normal”.
Autistic people are so often left out in the cold with regard to their mental health. Services like CAMHS and adult mental health services will actively turn away Autistic people. Even those who do manage to access support are often met with cultural incompetency and therapies not designed for them. It feels as though we have to do things for ourselves at a time when we most likely feel incapable.
So, yes, May is Mental Health Awareness Month, but it’s not enough to learn about depression and anxiety. We need to create a culture where those who are most vulnerable have access to good quality support, and are not made to feel like outsiders for not blending with the crowd.
Autistic people deserve a happy life.
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