Mental Health and Communication

by Care Speech Pathology 
29 November 2022

Mental health is a hugely important topic of discussion in our world today. Mental health not only has implications for how someone feels, but also on their ability to fully connect with people, participate in a range of activities and get the most out of every day. Here at Care Speech Pathology, we take mental health seriously and we know all about the impacts it can have on a person’s communication

What is mental health and how does it relate to Speech Pathology?

Mental health refers to a person’s psychological and emotional wellbeing. A person with poor mental health may have difficulties with family life, making friends, expressing emotions or regulating their behaviour. Mental health can also have a significant impact on a person’s communication, such as their ability to understand, learn, express themselves, have conversations and build meaningful relationships with others.

Speech Pathologists play an indirect role in enhancing the health, wellbeing and participation of people with mental health needs by supporting their communication. For example, a Speech Pathologist might assist someone to use and understand language to communicate effectively so that they are better-equipped to share their feelings and experiences. Speech Pathologists also support people to enhance their overall ‘social connectedness’ by improving their relationships with the people around them. Feelings of social connectedness have been closely linked to positive mental health outcomes.

When treating people with mental health needs, Speech Pathologists will often work as part of a multidisciplinary team. This means that other health professionals (such as trained counsellors, social workers and psychologists) will also be involved in the person’s care to support their psychological and mental health needs more directly.

Speech Pathology Australia provides a number of free resources on the topic of mental health. You can find them here

What is trauma and how does it relate to Speech Pathology?

Trauma can be defined as a deeply distressing or disturbing experience that causes psychological injury or pain. Every person's response to a potentially traumatic event can be different. If a person is impacted by a traumatic event while they are still very young, it can even affect their brain development. That means that childhood trauma has the potential to affect a person’s functioning, behaviour and health outcomes across a lifetime.

Speech Pathologists play an important role in supporting children, adolescents and adults who have experienced trauma to improve their communication and confidence, so that they can build meaningful relationships with the people around them, participate fully in their community, and achieve their personal, educational and vocational goals.

At Care Speech Pathology, we are passionate about providing trauma-informed practice. That means our therapists have received special training to provide a supportive therapeutic environment that is based on the principles of safety, trustworthiness, choice, collaboration and empowerment.

What can I do to help?

Although mental health issues should be treated and managed by mental health professionals, there are some universal strategies that you can keep in mind if you are in close connection with someone who is experiencing or has experienced mental health issues. The following list is by no means exhaustive nor prescriptive, and you should always seek the guidance of a mental health professional before implementing any strategy!

Top tip: You can’t control another person’s behaviour, but you can control your own!

General strategies that help with connection:

  • Actively listen and be present with the person in the moment
  • Show respect to the person and offer empathetic statements
  • Show you care with your words and body language
  • Be open to the person with whom you are speaking
  • Be non-judgemental and acknowledge the other person’s strengths
  • Establish clear expectations and boundaries that make people feel safe
  • Provide hope and optimism – remember, people can recover
  • Do not promise to keep something a secret that needs to be discussed beyond yourself.

Communicating and responding to angry behaviour:

  • Maintain your poise – do not get angry in return
  • Be aware of your own and the other person’s defence mechanisms (e.g., denial, devaluing others, passive-aggressive behaviour)
  • Maintain good eye contact and listen without interrupting
  • Give the person time to blow off steam and the opportunity to respond and repair
  • Pause briefly before responding calmly
  • Offer empathetic statements or reflections of feelings

Positive healing relationships can come from all sectors of the community. Everyone has a unique role to play in this experience – whether in an ongoing way or simply in a single interaction.

People with communication difficulties may also be experiencing difficulties with mental health or trauma. This can lead to an increased emotional response (such as anxiety, fear or reservation) to social interactions which can negatively impact the person’s quality of life and ability to participate fully in society. At Care Speech Pathology, we are a team of experienced, informed and understanding clinicians who are here to support you or your child’s communication needs in the best way we can.

If you would like to book an initial consultation with a Speech Pathologist from our team, please contact us on 1300086280 or at [email protected].

References

  • CADRE Design Pty. Ltd (now non-existent) (2019) and the Psychosocial Research Centre (University of Melbourne) for the Mental Health Professional Online Development (MHPOD) Project Steering Committee, on behalf of the Mental Health Workforce Advisory Committee (MHWAC)
  • Flasher, L. V., & Fogle, P. T. (2012). Counselling skills for speech-language pathologists and audiologists. Cengage Learning.
  • Saeri AK, Cruwys T, Barlow FK, Stronge S, Sibley CG. Social connectedness improves public mental health: Investigating bidirectional relationships in the New Zealand attitudes and values survey. Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry. 2018;52(4):365-374. doi:10.1177/0004867417723990
  • Speech Pathology Australia. (2016). Resources for the public: Mental Health and Trauma. Retrieved October 28, 2022,
  • https://www.speechpathologyaustralia.org.au/SPAweb/
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    Resources_for_the_Public/Mental_Health/Mental_Health.aspx?hkey=ebe803c6-a217-461e-bd88-004d0d547c29

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