A mental health overview

Mental health refers to a state of social, physical and mental well-being which can be affected by biological, individual and social influences and perspectives (WHO ICF 2001). Disorders of mental ill health may be transitory, enduring or recurring and cause personal distress or impaired functioning in one or more areas of an individual’s life.

This section focuses on the complex inter-relationship between mental health disorders and speech, language, communication and swallowing disorders.  

Key points:

  • A high proportion of children and adults presenting to mental health services may have disturbances of speech, language, communication and swallowing which may be difficult to identify. For example, a child with impaired verbal skills may present with aggression resulting from frustration or from oppositional or violent intentions (McDonald McCary et al. 2012).
  • Speech and language therapists (SLTs) have a unique role in identifying the communication characteristics and swallowing disorders, contributing to differential diagnosis and facilitating identification of retained abilities and comorbidities e.g. motor speech and swallowing impairments. They can also provide therapeutic programmes to develop speech, language or communication skills. 
  • An SLT is an integral member of the multidisciplinary team supporting clients with mental health problems, contributing to the assessment, diagnosis and care plan.
  • SLTs help individuals to integrate socially and participate in life roles - education, work, social - and to access and benefit from verbally mediated interventions. 
  • Persons with mental ill health and associated communication difficulty are at risk as defined by the Incapacity Act and SLTs are integral to assessing competence for consent.

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