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Speech, language and communication needs and mental health: the experiences of speech and language therapists and mental health professionals

Hancock, A., Northcott, S. ORCID: 0000-0001-8229-5452, 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, doi: 10.1111/1460-6984.12767


While the relationship between speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) and mental health difficulties has been recognized, speech and language therapists (SLTs), and mental health professionals face challenges in assessing and treating children with these co-occurring needs. There exists a gap in the evidence base for best practice for professionals working with children and young people (CYP) who experience difficulties in both areas.

To explore the views of SLTs and mental health clinicians about their experiences of working with CYP exhibiting co-occurring SLCN and mental health difficulties.

Methods & Procedures
Semi-structured interviews were conducted with eight SLTs and six mental health professionals, including psychotherapists, clinical psychologists, play therapists and counsellors, with experience working with CYP with SLCN. Interviews were analysed using reflexive thematic analysis and themes were identified from the data.

Outcomes & Results
Participants felt that SLCN and mental health difficulties frequently co-occur. Participants described how CYP with SLCN and mental health issues commonly experience difficulties across and between the domains of language and cognition, emotional well-being and challenging behaviour. Findings suggest that there are organizational limitations in the fields of SLT and mental health that have implications for the efficacy of assessment and treatment of CYP with SLCN and mental health difficulties. Traditional talking therapies were perceived to be inaccessible and ineffective for CYP with SLCN and mental health difficulties. Interventions blending behaviour and emotion programmes with language and communication interventions were considered potentially beneficial.

Conclusions & Implications
Future research should explore and evaluate current services and service set-up in SLT and mental health. The findings from this study have important implications for the efficacy of treatments provided to this population suggesting that more research needs to be done into effective diagnosis and interventions for this population.

What is already known on the subject
Research suggests that CYP with SLCN, such as developmental language disorder (DLD), are likely to experience mental health difficulties including depression, anxiety and poor emotional well-being. CYP who experience difficulties with SLCN and poor mental health are not well understood and this area remains under-researched. This has implications for clinician knowledge and therefore the effective diagnosis and treatment of children and adolescents experiencing SLCN and mental health difficulties. In addition, little is known about the accessibility of talking therapies to CYP presenting with SLCN and mental health difficulties.

What this paper adds to existing knowledge
SLCN issues are understood by SLTs and mental health issues are understood by mental health professionals, but where these co-occur difficulties exist for the diagnostic process, with professionals perceiving that CYP in this category are often undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. Organizational boundaries between SLT and mental health were perceived to contribute to a lack of understanding of SLCN and mental health needs, which has implications for effective diagnosis and treatment. Traditional talking therapies were thought to be inaccessible for CYP with SLCN and mental health difficulties. Interventions used in both SLT and psychotherapy were perceived as clinically useful if combined.

What are the potential or actual clinical implications of this work?
This paper highlights implications for the accessibility and efficacy of the assessment and treatment provided to this population and to the organization of services currently treating this group of CYP. A direction for future research would be to undertake service evaluations and intervention-based studies.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: This is an open access article under the terms of theCreative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivsLicense, which permits use and distribution in any medium,provided the original work is properly cited, the use is non-commercial and no modifications or adaptations are made.© 2022 The Authors.International Journal of Language & Communication Disorderspublished by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of Royal College of Speech and LanguageTherapists.
Publisher Keywords: mental health, social emotional mental health, speech language and communication needs
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
P Language and Literature > P Philology. Linguistics
R Medicine > RC Internal medicine
R Medicine > RC Internal medicine > RC0321 Neuroscience. Biological psychiatry. Neuropsychiatry
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Language & Communication Science
Text - Published Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial No Derivatives.

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