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Mindful Places: Addressing Mental Health, Neurodiversity


Symbol of neurodiversity
Image: Yulia Buchatskaya -
We are living in a time of increased numbers of neurodivergent people and awareness about ADHD, dyslexia, autistic, and other neurological states. In fact, one in eight people are considered neurodiverse, but fewer than 50% know it. Neurodivergents tend to be high energy, out-of-the-box thinkers, excel in a crisis, and be bold problem-solvers, but navigating the modern workplace can be a challenge.
When considering mental health and neurodiversity, the inclusion strategy ultimately must strive to achieve a workplace culture and environment that encourages all people to feel safe. This means having a workplace that acknowledges their differences in a positive way, accepts them, and allows them to thrive. By default, this will increase the ability to mitigate the potential for mental health issues to emerge and take over as a result of the workplace.
This is a considerable concern. While the COVID-19 pandemic is consuming so much of our attention in the workplace today, the prevalence of neurological conditions remains one of the greatest threats to public health. As the World Health Organization states: “There are several gaps in understanding the many issues related to neurological disorders, but we already know enough about their nature and treatment to be able to shape effective policy responses to some of the most prevalent among them.”
The drivers of mental health include socioeconomic, biological, and environmental factors, such as work conditions, lifestyle and health behaviors, nutrition, and genetic components that influence chemicals in the brain. There is growing research to suggest that some neurological conditions, such as autism spectrum disorder, will cause the individual to have a stronger predisposition, when compared to neurotypicals, to suffer from anxiety and depression. It is for this reason that while neurodiversity and mental health are different things, they should be thought about together on a contextual basis.
One in four people are likely to have a mental health challenge at some point in their life. Stress, often the most common, can be caused by a combination of work, home, and personal factors. Ironically, despite prevailing stigma, people are more open to talking about mental health than neurodiversity.
Depression is also one of the most overlooked issues today, not only for neurodivergent thinkers but for neurotypicals as well. Despite the impact it has, the global spend on mental health is less than $2 per person, WELL has reported. Treatments for depression and anxiety are vastly underutilized. In high-income countries with well-established healthcare systems, 35% to 50% of people living with mental illness receive no treatment. In low- to middle-income countries, upwards of 76% to 85% of people living with mental illness do not receive treatment, WELL noted in the same report.
Design can have a significant impact on the quality of life. We have an opportunity to influence the physical and the cultural adaptations required to make workplaces more inclusive, healthier, and mindful. By providing people with an ecosystem of settings where they have some control and choice over where they work, we can enable people to find the right setting for the task at hand. Even if one of those options is to work remotely.
We must work to improve our understanding of neurological differences. Better understanding will lead to reducing the stigmatism around these issues and improve our ability to address them within the workplace.

If you're working to create more diverse, inclusive workplaces, we'd love to hear from you. Please share in the comments section below or email WorkSpace Connect.