Autistica calls for support for autistic people in mental health units

The 'Break the Cycle' campaign was developed by Ogilvy Health UK and its neurodiversity network ReWired

By creative salon

Autism charity Autistica has launched 'Break the Cycle', a campaign drawing awareness to the fact that too many autistic people are detained in mental health units. It also calls on the UK government to deliver its 2021 Autism Strategy to support people with autism and prevent them from reaching a crisis.

The campaign will run OOH and is made up of hard-hitting illustrations by autistic artist Lury Araujo Nascimento Lira de Medeiros of Lightfarm Studios. Drawing on the first-hand experiences of autistic people based on the Autistica Insights Group, words such as frustrated, afraid, and misunderstood are displayed on posters to emphasise the emotions autistic people have felt when detained. In the background of the images are scraps from old asylum papers to highlight the archaic practices and lack of progress.

Autistic people are forced to wait years for a diagnosis, are six times more likely to attempt suicide than their peers and are seven in ten having one or more mental health condition. The campaign aims to show those blanket responses during moments of crisis – often being sectioned under the Mental Health Act – aren’t effective. The noise and chaos of units can make autistic people more distressed, and with a lack of understanding and personalised care, their mental health often worsens.

John McPartland – Executive Creative Director, Ogilvy Health UK, said: “The archaic way in which people with autism are treated through the mental health act is creating a systemic distress to thousands in the UK. We wanted this work to both shock and enlighten the public about this hidden horror in our system. It was vital that we tackled the subject carefully, and with as much authenticity as possible, which is why all of the campaign stems from real experiences, and was beautifully brought to life by autistic illustrator Lira.”

Lira de Medeiros – Artist – Lightfarm Studios, added: “As an artist with autism, participating in this project has been a deeply personal and fulfilling experience. Art, for me, is not just a form of expression but a bridge to the world's understanding of the complex emotional landscape that people like me navigate daily. Sketching our male character, his face etched with anger and frustration, I couldn't help but resonate with him. Those raw emotions mirrored the turmoil I've endured during meltdowns and the overwhelming sensory episodes that are all too familiar. Each stroke of my brushes not only depicted his journey but also retraced my own - a journey fraught with the search for understanding, the right medication, and acceptance in a world that often reacted with impatience to what it did not comprehend.”

Gabriella Field – Founder and Chair, Ogilvy Rewired, commented: “As a collective of neurodivergent individuals and allies at Ogilvy ReWired, we are thrilled to create work specifically for our community. Our aim is to provide a platform for neurodivergent voices to be heard authentically. We believe in empowering neurodivergent individuals to share their unique perspectives and narratives, in this case, leveraging our creative talents to make a meaningful impact in healthcare by sharing the experiences of autistic inpatients - and setting a new standard for patient care and support.

“Our work is not about speaking for them but amplifying their voices. We're dedicated to fostering a space where neurodivergent individuals have the agency to shape their own narratives, and we're excited to see the positive impact this will have within our community and beyond.”

Dr James Cusack, CEO, Autistica, added: “It is unacceptable that such huge numbers of autistic people are reaching crisis, yet nothing is being done to change the system. It is clear that we need to understand how to better support autistic people from day one. Without research into better solutions, and investment in services, these figures will only worsen, and more lives will be destroyed, or tragically lost.”

Jason Jarvis, Creative Agency Account Director, Clear Channel UK, concluded: “Clear Channel are excited once again to work with Ogilvy to bring to life the latest campaign for Austica and help the charity to raise awareness of autistic meltdowns using our public medium. Through this ongoing creative partnership, we hope to continue to leverage the power of Out of Home and creativity to drive positive change.”


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