Monday, April 08, 2024

The industrialisation of neurodiversity

Nuffield Health has highlighted the need for a radical rethink on neurodiversity services (see eg. Sky news report) by its publication of data on waiting lists for assessment for ADHD and autism (see blog post). Increased public awareness of autism, ADHD and other neurodivergent conditions has led to more people seeking support and, as a Guardian report says, the “NHS faces [an] ‘avalanche’ of demand for autism and ADHD”. What’s required is a needs-based rather than diagnosis-led service, as has been argued for autism in children by a report resulting from a collaborative programme of work between Child of the North and the Centre for Young Lives. 

Neurodiversity has become an industry, often more motivated by profit than patient interest. Biomedical myths that suggest emotional problems are due to brain disorder support this development, although the neurodiversity movement itself promotes neurodiversity as not being a mental health problem. Neurodiversity in this sense means intrinsic diversity of brain function (see previous post). Society does need to adapt to individual differences but to suggest these personal differences are due to brain problems is also a biomedical myth.

The internet does seem to have made it relatively easy to sell all sorts of mental health treatments online, including psychological, medication and other physical treatments (see eg. previous post). People talk about COVID causing an increase in demand for mental health treatments, but maybe that’s just because the pandemic was associated with more widespread use of the internet. In another previous post, I expressed scepticism that COVID really increased depression and anxiety, not to minimise the emotional impact of the pandemic, and of course long COVID. Certainly, as I said in my last post, the marketing of digital apps online is out of control.  And it’s particularly the diagnosis-led basis of such interventions than can lead to their exploitation, even to corrupt business practices (see eg. yet another previous post). 

As I keep saying, the cultural process of seeking to create panaceas for emotional and other mental health problems doesn’t always work and may create more problems than it is worth (see previous post). The limitation of treatment to help people cope with their differences from others does need to be recognised, but such people should be able to obtain support if they ask for it. They don’t necessarily require a label of neurodiversity or any other mental health diagnosis to be able to make the most of that support.

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