Wentworth Miller, Mental Health Stigma, and Masked Autism
Autism is wildly underdiagnosed in people of color and queer folks. The life of Wentworth Miller is a great illustration of why.
This week, actor Wentworth Miller (best known for his roles as Michael Scofield in Prison Break and Captain Cold on The Flash and Legends of Tomorrow) came out publicly as Autistic. The 49-year-old performer, who has been a vocal LGBTQ activist and mental health advocate for years, revealed in an Instagram post that he discovered he was neurodivergent a year ago. In the time since discovering his status as an Autistic person, Miller has clearly been doing a lot of reading and reflecting. He wrote:
Right now my work looks like evolving my understanding. Re-examining 5 decades of lived experience thru a new lens.
That will take time.
Meanwhile, I don’t want to run the risk of suddenly being a loud, ill-informed voice in the room. The #autistic community (this I do know) has historically been talked over. Spoken for. I don’t wish to do additional harm. Only to raise my hand, say, “I am here. Have been (w/o realizing it).”
In his coming-out post, Miller shared that despite spending the first 48 years of his life not realizing he was disabled, Autism has already become a core part of his identity, one he would never wish to cure or change. He also mentions that years of mental health struggles suddenly have a new context for him.
Like a lot of undiagnosed Autistic adults, Miller suffered from profound depression throughout his life. He’s been open in the past about frequently feeling anxious, disconnected, and filled with despair. He first attempted suicide at the age of 15, and survived several more after that. In 2010, depression forced him to enter semi-retirement from acting. Miller has described this period as the lowest point in his adult life, with food providing the only highlight to his days.
In retrospect, this sudden, profound breakdown in energy and motivation sounds a lot like Autistic burnout. It is particularly common for neurodiverse people to experience burnout following an intense period of activity and social performance. Hot off the heels of Prison…