Language important to mental health

Speech and language skills play an important role in mental health.

Kingsley Bower

Interior Health

Speech and language skills play an important role in mental health.

“Righty-tighty, lefty-loosy.”

“I think I can!  I think I can!”

How many times have you used words to help remember how to do something, or to just keep yourself going? Imagine what would happen if you couldn’t use words to do this.  Six to 14 per cent of young children have difficulty learning language. For many of these children, having difficulty with words makes it harder to learn new skills and to control emotions.

We use words to walk us through steps of a job. If we don’t use words to silently help us along, we’re more likely to forget steps or do them out of order. Imagine constantly getting it wrong, or being regularly criticized for sloppy work? That’s pretty hard on self-esteem.

A significant percentage of young children whose language development is behind their peers develop learning and mental health difficulties.

It’s not just frequent criticism that can turn a language delay into a mental health issue. Words help us stay in control of our emotions. As language skills develop, toddlers get better at telling their parents what they need without having to throw a tantrum.  But there’s more to it than that — even very young children calm themselves with words and phrases like “I need to wait for my turn” and “My Mom will be right back.”  Kids with language delays can’t do this as easily, so their emotional control can become delayed.

Interior Health has speech and language pathologists (SLPs) who specialize in the needs of children from birth to age five. These little ones are too young to be taught like students, so SLPs coach families to support their children’s language development. SLPs also provide testing and consultation with other caregivers and professionals as well as services for children with hearing loss, autism spectrum disorder, cleft lip or palate, stuttering, difficult pronunciation, and voice disorders.

Interior Health’s speech and language clinics are found at many local health centres. Anyone may refer; a physician’s prescription is not required. To contact your local health centre visit the Interior Health website at http://www.interiorhealth.ca/centres.aspx.

Kingsley Bower is a Speech and Language Pathologist with Interior Health.