Communicating with young people about mental health and wellbeing

This afternoon I went to a twilight seminar for a range of professionals. We heard about the findings of a critical review of the literature on children and young people’s views on the factors that influence their mental health. One of the authors, Jenny Spratt, summarised the findings of the review’s 137 pages and we were then encouraged to reflect on how they relate to and can inform practice with young people, whether at school or in the wider community. The four most important influences for young people emerging from the review are all familiar territory for speech and language therapists:
- Social relationships
- A need to feel normal and fit in
- Transitions
- Control over choices.

One of the attendees talked about the challenges of finding the right language to use with young people to discuss their mental health and wellbeing. Jenny has found simple concepts such as ‘good’ / ‘bad’ can be the most effective.

By coincidence, earlier on today I had an order for a 2010 article by Yvonne Macleman. It examines how speech and language therapists can work with Child & Adolescent Mental Health Services using Talking Mats to facilitate accurate mental state assessments in young people with speech, language and communication difficulties.

Talking Mats is a low technology communication framework involving sets of symbols designed to help people with communication difficulties think about issues and express their opinion. Yvonne’s article included an example of their use with Greg, a young man with Asperger’s syndrome. She says his mother “spontaneously commented on two separate occasions that she felt the Talking Mat was an easier way for her son to express his thoughts and feelings around a difficult area.” A family therapy colleague also commented that he “thought the Talking mat could actually be ‘emotionally containing’ for both the young person and their family” (p.9).

Jenny Spratt talked about the irony that  children who are generally happy find it difficult to express the positive factors impacting on their wellbeing while, in contrast, the review says that “some of the most insightful thinking about ‘normal’ states of mental health in young people comes from those who feel they have somehow been tipped beyond this” (p.62). In a similar way, we know that work done with people with speech, language and communication difficulties gives lots of clues about the kind of language and supported conversation that is equally useful with young people who do not have such specific needs.

Macleman, Y. (2010) 'Talking Matters', Speech & Language Therapy in Practice Spring, pp.8-10.
Shucksmith, J., Spratt, J., Philip, K. & McNaughton, R. (2009) A critical review of the literature on children and young people's views of the factors that influence their mental health. Edinburgh: NHS Scotland.


Thank you to Sue Briggs, Senior Community Learning & Development Worker in Laurencekirk for inviting me to the seminar.

This entry was posted in AAC, Autism, Books, journals and articles, CPD, Service delivery, Speech and Language Therapy and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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