For many in the autism/autistic community, their mental health can be a huge challenge. Numerous studies and research have shown that those on the autistic spectrum experience higher rates of poor mental health and are more likely to commit suicide than the general population.
There are many reasons for this, but a lack of help and support can often be a crucial factor, whether this is delays in accessing and receiving diagnosis services or barriers to employment. Communication difficulties can also mean that signs of distress are not noticeable to family members or friends.
Many of those who call our helpline also tell us that this is the first time in their lives they have been listened to and feel understood and, perhaps most importantly, all without being judged. A lot of phone calls that we receive from the autism community are to do with feelings of isolation and their anxiety can be very high, as they quite simply don’t know who can help or how to access it.
Due to these past experiences of being ignored or avoided, people often come to us with feelings of anger, rejection, and low self-esteem. This can then manifest into fear and prevent them from getting the help that they deserve and so urgently need. Though there has undoubtedly been progression around mental health stigma in recent years, existing stigma still prevents people from reaching out to people in the autism community who experience strong feelings, panic attacks, overwhelming emotion, and irrational fears.
Our help hub manager, Louise Knight, who is autistic herself, has been through many of the challenges our community share with us. This is extremely important in making people feel like they have been truly understood and putting a human face at the end of the line.
‘If they have someone that doesn’t judge, is empathic, understanding and listening, just one, it can make a lonely world less scary and sad.’ We make sure no judgements are made or tell them how they should feel, or what they should do. It is important to us that their feelings are recognised.
As Louise further explains: ‘They sometimes have meltdowns, sometimes they swear but I stay steadfast. They will do these things. For them to know I’m not walking away is a big thing. That is when trust develops. In this world, there are so many walking alone and confused. I’m their friend. Hearing someone laugh after they’ve been so upset is magic.’
Through our help hub, we also give advice on a range of issues the autism community faces, from employment, education, personal independence payment, benefits, diagnosis services, housing, and social isolation. We also offer one-to-one meetings which cover PIP assessments and diagnosis.
Through our TAD Talks at our TAD Live Events, the autism community can also tell their stories, while our social groups also provide an opportunity to socialise in a comfortable and safe environment.
We will also soon be opening a community hub in Caerphilly to provide face-to-face services. Our employment programme also gives our users the chance to share their employment experiences and the tools to build their confidence and skills.
Providing opportunities for individuals to have their voice heard is, ultimately, key to improving mental health. This is why listening is so important to us at The Autism Directory.