ONE question I frequently ask is whether the media can heal itself. Do our newspapers, our television news services and our radio shows have the capacity to improve their own behaviour and reach out to audiences that often have much higher expectations than some branches of the media imagine?

I am increasingly of the view that people want media that aspires to a higher ground, where ideas can be discussed in all their complexity.

Regulators have the power to monitor, but editors and owners have the real power to improve their output.

A few years ago, autism burst into my life like a joyful hurricane rushing from room-to-room and echoing the most magical language. It was worrying at first, but my son’s diagnosis propelled me on a journey that I should have embarked on many years earlier. I set out on a mission to understand the biggest single issue of our lives – our mental health.

Every day since, I have kept a brilliant book by my desk – Steve Silberman’s NeuroTribes: The Legacy Of Autism (Allen & Unwin). It is among the most challenging books I’ve ever read. It is in essence a mission to understand autism, and throughout its inspiring pages it offers a powerful thesis about a society we already occupy, and what will happen in the decades yet to come.

Silberman’s book argues that we live in an era of neuro-diversity as challenging to society as racial integration and civil rights in the late 20th century.

The World Health Organisation recently put figures to that theory, claiming: “One in four people in the world will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives. Around 450 million people currently suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.”

Silberman argues that we are facing a critical moment in human evolution, an era in which mental health conditions will be so mainstream that it will demand fundamental changes to the way we think, how we communicate and how the media reacts to change. These last few months have not set the best template. Brexit and its corrosive failings have taken noise levels up to deafening incoherence. Shrill commentary is now commonplace within our newspapers, and a “shouty” public discourse seems the norm.

We have been poorly served by cantankerous media. It encourages lazy editorial thinking, fosters division, apportions blame and frequently demands that heads roll. This bilious certainty always wants simple solutions for complex problems, and is temperamentally unsuited to a neuro-diverse society.

One example among many was Andrew Neil’s malicious “mad cat woman” tweet, in which he targeted the freelance investigative journalist Carole Cadwalladr for abuse because of her dogged investigations into Cambridge Analytica and the Vote Leave Campaign. Neil had ascribed to a fellow journalist a form of madness because she was determinedly pursuing a story, and that – put crudely – that madness had something to do with her being a woman.

It was an incident that left the BBC in dispute with some of its own female staff, who believed that Neil was using the language of mental health stereotypes to stigmatise and attack a journalist whose investigative persistence sets her apart as an award-winner in a poorly resourced journalistic era.

Stigmatising mental health conditions in the media has a long and dishonourable history. We are now so accustomed to seeing words such as “psycho”, “nutter” and “weirdo” in newspaper headlines that their bloated ugliness now seems normal. How might sub-editors, headlines writers or journalists find a different kind of language for the era of neuro-diversity – or should we simply assume that the horse has bolted, and that we live in a much crueller society, where the language of media has been coarsened to a point of no return?

In Scotland, the dark legacies of post-industrialism mean that mental health problems are deeply ingrained in our poorer communities.

Although spending on community psychiatric care has increased by 34% since 2006, no right-thinking person would argue that our workplaces and school system are ready to tackle the epidemic rise in autism, attention deficit disorder, dyslexia and dyspraxia.

Early diagnosis and intervention is the clarion call, and evidence proves this is a good thing, but what the early diagnosis exposes is the tip of the iceberg. We are becoming more vulnerable to the challenges of mental health, not less.

The media can play a huge public service role, and some will argue convincingly that it already does. There is evidence of some outstanding popular journalism out there, particularly in articles that seek to raise awareness, but there have been some horrendous setbacks too – mostly the coarseness of language, the stereotyping of complex conditions and the widespread intolerance of those who do not fit.

Not fitting in has become virtually a crime in its own right. It is not so long ago that eight newspapers were forced to make substantial libel payments to the retired teacher Christopher Jefferies, who was wrongly accused of being a suspect in the murder of the Bristol architect Joanna Yeates.

The evidence against Mr Jefferies was, in essence, that “he looked weird”, and in the aftermath of the case, Jefferies himself claimed that the tabloid press portrayed him as a “sexually perverted voyeur who used teaching as a means of feeding my perversions”. They were wrong – spectacularly wrong.

The National:

Unfairly accused: Christopher Jefferies

This case underlines a deeper flaw within our media: the tendency to distrust and demonise outsiders, especially those that do not fit into our normalised versions of behaviour in society – neuro-diversity may worsen that situation.

As we move inexorably towards a neuro-diverse society, the media needs to undergo a wholesale recalibration of language, attitudes and editorial priorities. I for one am sick and tired of binary absolutism, which has thus far marred daily coverage of Brexit, Scottish independence and has all but contaminated the emotional tribalism of Scottish football, where issues of depression are frequently coming to light.

I have grown weary of troll journalism, provocative overstatement and editorial policies that are clearly designed to set people against each other in the false name of balance.

These corrosive policies have brought the BBC’s flagship current affairs show Question Time into disrepute. Manipulating panels to stoke division is closer to bear-baiting than intelligent discourse, and casting audiences to bring out craven hostility reflects poorly on the show.

All of which brings me back to autism. When it first came joyously into my life, I was faced with a huge lacunae in my knowledge – I simply didn’t know what was going on, and had to hold my hands up to a void in my understanding.

Not being certain was troubling at first, but may actually be a shaft of light through darkened curtains. Many of the problems with our media are a failure to tolerate absences of knowledge and replacing them with crude certainties.

Issues such as mental health, and indeed the substantial constitutional change we are living through, are by their nature complex. Seeking nuance rather than Armageddon is usually a much better route to truths, so we need a media that brings clarity, even equilibrium, rather than one that demands instant solutions and bullying certainties We need a media that is more hopeful about life and not so cocksure it is always right.