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How stammering and speech conditions can impact mental health

By Chloe Hall

Our mental health can be affected by many things, even things we can’t necessarily control.

We all have an idea of how we ‘should be’, how we should look, talk, and be perceived by others. Often anything that deviates from this is considered bad, or wrong, and can have a profound impact on how we feel and think about ourselves.

One example of this is stammering.

What is stammering?

Stammering is a condition where somebody repeats a syllable of a word, or sounds in general. Sometimes a sound will seem longer than usual, or the speaker will appear to be unable to express a particular word or part of a word.

Stammering can be heightened by different situations, especially if the person concerned feels nervous or uncomfortable, although there may be other times when the person speaks confidently and fluently.

People who stammer are naturally self-conscious and are likely to avoid eye contact as they express themselves. They will tend to use terms to fill pauses or to attempt to compensate for breaks in speech, like ‘oh’, ‘um’, ‘err’, and ‘eh’.

How common is stammering?

Research shows that approximately eight percent of young children experience stammering, about two thirds of these will eventually grow out of it.

Approximately one percent of adults suffers from it, and men are three times more prone to stammer than women.

What causes stammering?

Experts suggest that genetic factors increase the likelihood that someone will have a stammer. Two thirds of people who stammer come from families with a history of the condition. Speech relies on communication across parts of the brain as well as muscles associated with speaking and breathing. Problems with speaking can arise if any links in this complex process are not fully coordinated or developed. Such breaks can lead to the expression of repeated sounds, or breaks in words or phrases.

Stammering can be triggered when someone has to communicate several pieces of information, or when they’re nervous. Some children may experience worse bouts of stammering when they talk to a teacher or an authority figure, call out their name at form registration, read aloud to or address a group, or have to speak on the phone.

As children continue to develop their communication skills, certain issues can resolve themselves as the brain can adapt to improve self-expression.

How stammering can impact mental health

Someone who stammers may try to avoid socialising because they feel self-conscious, even in everyday situations like asking for a bus ticket, an item in a shop, or for help in class. This can lead to loneliness and isolation, which can harm mental health.

They may also try to slow their speech, lower their voice, or even adopt an accent. People who experience stammering can develop a sense of self-loathing, viewing their condition as a humiliation. This can lead to a variety of emotional reactions such as fear, frustration, shame, or embarrassment, which can harm our mental health.

Feeling like you aren’t able to make yourself understood can also harm our mental health, as this is a core need we all have.

Treatments for stammering

There is a variety of speech and language therapy available for people who stammer. A GP can make a referral to a therapist who will formulate a plan which is likely to include environmental considerations, for example, exploring where and when someone is likely to feel most relaxed, and therefore less anxious about speaking.

A therapist can also recommend strategies aimed at developing communication skills which can ultimately aid fluency and accuracy of expression. It is likely that a therapist will tackle feelings which are associated with stammering, for instance anxiety, stress, and fear.

A year 11 student called Musharaf simply could not express himself through words at school until his English teacher suggested that he try speaking while listening to music. This clip below shows the power that certain treatments can have, and that everyone responds to things differently:

Signposting help

The NHS lists examples of help available for stammering.

Mind provides several sources of mental health support whether by phone or email.

HFEH Mind’s blog offers advice on a variety of mental health issues. Sometimes just getting some extra information can prove to be a positive first step.

Our mental health services directory, Wellbeing West London, can help you find mental health services near you.

Our Safe Space service may also be able to help. We provide an alternative to A&E for people experiencing a mental health crisis, and can give advice, support, or just listen.

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Posted on: 21st October 2022

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