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The area of social, emotional and mental health needs (SEMH) includes:

  • Social and emotional functioning
  • Wellbeing
  • The ability to regulate self and behaviour
  • Mental health difficulties

The children and young people (CYP) who experience these difficulties may have a medical mental health diagnosis and they may have special educational needs in this area.

In England, the term SEMH has superseded the terms Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties (EBD), Behavioural, Emotional and Social Difficulties (BESD), and Social, Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties (SEBD) since the publication of the 2015 SEND Code of Practice.

The new code of practice defines social, emotional and mental health in the following way:

“6.32 Children and young people may experience a wide range of social and emotional difficulties which manifest themselves in many ways. These may include becoming withdrawn or isolated, as well as displaying challenging, disruptive or disturbing behaviour. These behaviours may reflect underlying mental health difficulties such as anxiety or depression, self-harming, substance misuse, eating disorders or physical symptoms that are medically unexplained. Other children and young people may have disorders such as attention deficit disorder, attention deficit hyperactive disorder or attachment disorder.” (Department for Education and Department for Health (PDF), 2015)

Children and young people may also experience SEMH but have no formal recognition in terms of diagnosis or special educational needs categorisation.


For further information please read our factsheets:

SLTs working with children and young people with social, emotional and mental health needs: skills specification

This skills specification (Word) has been developed by the SEMH (SE) CEN. It lists the various skills and experience needed for working with CYP with SEMH at different levels. It may be a useful CPD tool for SLTs and their supervisors. It may also be useful for education settings providing speech and language therapy services and those commissioning these services. The document is intended as a guide and can be adapted as needed.

Please contact us with any feedback and suggestions at any time.

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