Ask A Counselor Anything Answer: The Increase of Identifying as “Neurodivergent.”
A few weeks ago, we opened our first Ask a Counselor Anything on social media and ya’ll dove right in! Our first question is a tricky one. Our licensed counselor, Katie, took this one on. Feel free to read on for our answer and make sure to keep an eye on our social media for more Ask a Counselor Anything posts.
It seems like everyone these days claims to be "neurodivergent" of some variety (many of them self-diagnosed). Do you feel like too many people are identifying with mental illness, or do you think it is helpful for people to take on these labels?
The increased usage of mental health labels like ‘neurodivergent’ or even the use of diagnostic disorder labels give me, as a counselor, the combined feelings of hope and hesitation
Whenever someone enters my office with a self-given label, my first question is always, “What does this label do for you?” What function is that label performing in your life? More often than not, there’s longing for understanding and belonging underneath the need for a label. The catch is: no one or series of labels can fully encompass the individual human experience. So, let’s break it down into some gool ol’ fashioned pros and cons here.
Mental health professionals are scientists and researchers. High quality mental health help is founded in evidence-based practices. Labels within the mental health field can help with trajectory of treatment for efficiency.
Labels can also help us structurally compare symptoms to better understand which detract from life and can be worked on or through. Again, utilizing those evidence-based treatments!
Labels can also do exactly what a lot of people hope for: establish a community. Isolation is one of the biggest enemies of a fulfilling life. Finding other people that experience the world similar to you that can help support you from a more “front-lines experience” perspective is incomparable. (In addition to professional consideration, of course)
The use of social media bringing attention to these things can be great for overcoming stigma and bringing about awareness in general!
Sometimes labels can end up causing us to conform. If you connect with two traits of a label, the desire to understand yourself can sometimes be so strong that you take on the other listed traits—even if they aren’t innate or truly part or your experience.
Sometimes labels can prevent personal growth. If taken as an identity, or fact, that cannot be altered or improved upon, a ‘stuck’ nature can develop. Remember: as humans we have the beautiful gift of being able to find alternate routes to fulfillment, coping, and change.
Sometimes, labels can lead to overgeneralizations that just don’t line up with reality. In the psychology field, one question we philosophically ponder often is, “What is normal, anyway?” In my experience as a counselor, I’ve found that people are not just cookie cutters that sometimes take a weird shape…everyone is their own cutter. Comparisons from human to human are rarely helpful because no one has the same resources, the same background, the same aptitudes or abilities, the same values and beliefs, etc. Out of a proper context, comparison, especially on social media, can be misleading.
If you see something online that you connect with or your find helps you cope in a certain area: AMAZING. I love that for you. I always want to know what my clients are finding they align with because it helps me dig in the right areas to uncover what they really value, want, and need. Do I think we should ‘go with the flow’ of self-diagnosing based on social media? Absolutely not. A professional that can put your context with your symptoms cannot be replaced.