Studies over the years have made clear the close connection between speech, language and communication disorders (SLCN) and mental health. Difficulties in communication play a large part in the lives of people of all ages, and if issues are not worked on with early intervention, they could have lasting impacts on mental wellbeing.
A fifth of children diagnosed with a mental disorder have language deficits.
More than 80% of young people with social, emotional and mental health needs require support with unidentified speech or language difficulties.
Nearly a half of children referred to psychiatrist services struggle with communication.
Links between SLCN and mental health
Increased vulnerability to mental health problems could be impacted by things such as genetics and outside factors. Notably, young people with speech, language and communication difficulties are more sensitive to anxiety as several studies suggest. Outside factors include things like social isolation which many children experience struggling with social skills and building lasting connections. This might also develop into bullying from peers for being different, which negatively impacts young people’s self-esteem during a time of finding themselves. Not being able to express feelings to those around means support to work through them is limited and internalised, which in turn can lead to more mental wellbeing issues.
Once referred to mental health services, many treatments, such as cognitive-behavioural therapy or family therapy, are reliant on speaking. Alongside the stress of acknowledging an issue, this can then be problematic and put more pressure on the young person as well as their guardians. Research has confirmed the decreased accessibility to the right support many children struggling with speech and language needs experience. It is important to work with your child and identify what works for them, this can be a long process requiring trying different approaches which might not bring much progress.
We can help
At SLCo we provide support for both children and young people. Our Chill youth club runs weekly and aims to provide a safe and supportive space for discussions about anything that might be on children’s minds. The Chill club can also provide a sense of social security for children with special needs as they see the same people regularly and are guided by friendly professionals.
We appreciate the effects of caring for a child with SLCN can have on parents and guardians. Our SLCo helpline is open for anyone needing urgent support or advice. Good mental wellbeing is just as important for families as for their children. Our Family Support Programme was created to provide a supportive community with others in the same position to share their experiences, knowledge and act as a supportive network.
Supporting your child
Every child is different and will find different approaches more effective than others. As a parent, you have a special connection with your child, speaking to your speech and language therapist about any concerns will help tailor the treatment program to better suit your child. Young people are likely to trust their family more than outside professionals, it is important to try and communicate with your child at home to find out their inner thoughts and feelings.
Three important things you can do at home to support your child are
- Have open conversations about mental health and anything that might be happening in your child’s life. Doing so will increase trust and help your child feel less anxiety at being judged.
- Give your child positive affirmation, remind them that its normal to have feelings and try to empathise with their situation. Feeling understood and connected is important for us all but especially children.
- Model good habits and behaviour. Doing things with your child and showing them that they are not alone in the journey will help them develop mental health skills. Try to give your child full attention when discussing things important to them and actively encourage discussion by asking open questions.
More information and support:
‘Unidentified Language Deficits in Children with Emotional and Behavioral Disorders’, Alexandra Hollo (2014).
‘Mental Health of Children and Young People in England’, NHS Digital. (2018).
‘Higher order language competence and adolescent mental health’, Nancy J Cohen (2013)