Important link between mental health and speech, language, communication and swallowing needs

Reviewed. Hancock, A., Northcott,S., Hobson, H., & Clarke, M. (2022) Speech, language and communication needs and mental health: the experiences of speech and language therapists and mental health professionals. International Journal of Language &Communication Disorders,1–15.

  • The study interviewed 14 individuals (8 speech and language Therapists and 6 mental health professionals) with an aim to understand their views on working with children and young people who have co-occurring SLCN and mental health difficulties. 

Findings; 4 main themes 

Theme 1 (Boundaries around professional relationships)

-Difficulties referring to services such as CAMHS, often receive referral rejections.

SaLT report that CAHMS are likely not to take children on under 7 as it should be speech and language therapy.

Theme 2 (Knowledge of SLCN and mental health difficulties)

-Deaf CAHMS based in Tooting available for deaf children up to 18 years and hearing children of deaf parents

-SaLT reported not sure how much this service knows about these particular children’s language needs and how their intervention is delivered effectively.

Theme 3 (Being misunderstood/labelled as naughty).

-All professionals agreed that children and young people presenting with SLCN and mental health difficulties as misunderstood and perceived negatively by school staff. For example, challenging behaviour, dysregulation and disengagement.

Theme 4 (Blended interventions)

-Strategies, Training, Involving parents in intervention

-All participants of the study mentioned adapting language for example using Talking Mats, visual timetables and Now/Next boards.

Points of interest; 

  • A factor that may link language, communication and mental health is the role of emotions and the impact of language and communication upon emotional processes. The ability to effectively vocalize feelings and thoughts relies heavily upon language skills, especially in relation to gaining a send of self-expression, self-control and emotional insight. 
  • Link between language and cognition, children are presenting with difficulties in executive function and being able to plan and organise themselves. For example, common for children to arrive late to sessions, forget equipment.
  • Link again with difficulties with metacognition, difficulties with insight, being able to monitor their communication and planning how to approach a learning task. 

Recommendations for practice:

  • Overall, need to merge intervention practices for example combining shape coding with Social Communication, Emotional Regulation, and Transactional Support (SCERTS)- behaviour intervention. 
  • Visual support
  • Teacher training for example supporting colleagues to communicate effectively. 
  • Strategies 
  • Adapt assessments and interventions for example new base children I spend first 1-2 week getting to know them.


  • In summary, many children and young people who are at increased risk of developing mental health problems are also likely to have speech, language and communication needs, including those with anxiety, autism, learning disabilities, selective mutism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), children in care and young people involved with the justice system.
  • RCSLT and CAMHS ongoing consultation processes to recognise the role of SaLT services within mental health services and to increase SaLT roles within core CAMHS services. 


Social Prescribing: 

  • Giving Voice Podcast July 2022
  • Works for a wide range of people;

-with one or more long- term conditions

-who need support with their mental health

-who have complex social needs which affect their wellbeing

  • What is social prescribing?

Connects people to services. 

Social activities group to help people meet their social, emotional needs. 

  • Long Term NHS England plan;

-there will be 1,000 new social prescribing link workers in place by 2020/21,

-at least 900,000 people will be referred to social prescribing by 2023/24

Things we already do for example, signposting and communication awareness training to early years 

Mental Health of Speech Therapists 

  • Why did I include Top tips?
  • Height of Covid-19 burnout and loneliness are recognised as risk factors that have significantly impacted on employee’s mental health. 
  • More than 800,000 peopled (around one in 40 workers) were thought to be affected by work-related stress, anxiety or depression in 2020 to 2021. 
    Around 18 million working days are thought to be lost each year due to these difficulties.

Website Reference 

-RCSLT 10-year plan to improve mental health. Department of Health and Social Care – call for evidence. 




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