Why should SLPs be involved in mental health?
Based on the research, there are three main reasons why speech pathologists should be involved in mental health. The first reason is that there is a high comorbidity or prevalence of children with language impairment in the population of children with emotional-behavioral disorders. One meta-analysis showed that 81% of children with emotional-behavioral disorders had below-average language skills (Hollo, Wehby and Oliver, 2014). This meta-analysis looked at 22 different studies which found that the mean comprehensive standard language score was 76. Pretty significant language deficits exist within this population.
There are also similar figures for pragmatic language and social communication, which also occur at a high prevalence for these children. A study by Benner showed that three out of four children with EBD have significant pragmatic language deficits (Benner, Nelson, and Epstein, 2002).
The second reason we should be involved in mental health and in psychiatry is that the population is often underdiagnosed and underserved when it comes to our services. A study done in 2001 showed that as many as 88% of children identified with EBD had never been evaluated for speech and language issues (Hyter et al., 2001 as cited in Armstrong, 2011).
Additionally, it has been found that one out of three children referred for EBD had previous undiagnosed language impairments (Cohen et al., 1998). In general, children with emotional-behavioral disorders have speech and language issues that go untreated. It also works the other way: Children with language disorders may also exhibit characteristics of EBD that go unaddressed.
A third point is that SLPs should be involved in the prevention of emotional and behavioral disorders. Longitudinal studies have shown an increase in psychiatric disorders in later life for children identified earlier with speech or language impairment (Beitchman et al., 2001; Clegg, Hollis, Mawhood, & Rutter, 2004, as cited in Pearce et al., 2014). It’s important that we, as SLPs, identify these children and treat these language issues as early as possible.
Studies have suggested that our services in treating language processing issues may be crucial in the prevention of some psychiatric disorders (Toppelberg and Shapiro, 2000). Furthermore, the early identification and treatment of language issues may reduce later problem behaviors (Brownlie et al., 2004).
Sarah Aielli, MS, CCC-SLP is a Speech-Language Pathologist at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, College Hill. Sarah primarily works with the inpatient and residential programs in the Division of Psychiatry, but also provides outpatient therapy. Sarah specializes in the evaluation and treatment of children and adolescents (ages 3 through 17 years of age) who have emotional and behavioral disorders, language disorders and social communication disorders.
Mallory Wallace, MS, CCC-SLP is a Speech-Language Pathologist at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, College Hill. She provides individual and group evaluation and treatment in the inpatient program of Psychiatry as well as the outpatient program at College Hill. Her area of interest and expertise is working with children and families impacted by language disorders and social communication disorders in children and adolescents (ages 3 to 17) with a history of abuse, neglect, and emotional-behavioral difficulties.