Mental Health and Trauma

Speech Pathology Australia (the Association) supports speech pathologists working in mental health and trauma.

Speech pathologists enhance the health, wellbeing and participation of people with mental health needs through prevention, early detection and treatment of communication and swallowing disorders.

Speech pathologists play an essential role in the multidisciplinary team, providing key assessment information to assist with differential diagnosis, delivering intervention to overcome communication and swallowing difficulties, and informing policy development.

Communication difficulties and social, emotional and behavioural (SEB) challenges

Communication includes the physical production of speech/voice; understanding what other people say; expressing thoughts and feelings using words; and/or interacting socially with others. Individuals with communication difficulties are much more likely to develop SEB difficulties, including mental illness, than the general population, and a significant number of people living with mental ill-health have communication needs.

Communication difficulties frequently co-occur with neurodivergent conditions (e.g., ADHD, autism) and/or mental health needs (e.g., anxiety, depression) either as part of the condition itself or as a side effect of medication used to treat the condition or need.

Swallowing difficulties and mental health needs

Problems with eating, drinking and swallowing are known as dysphagia. Many people living with poor mental health have difficulty swallowing food or drinking safely and they are much more likely to develop swallowing difficulties than the general population.

Speech pathology and trauma

Abuse or neglect experienced in the childhood years is called ‘complex’ or ‘developmental’ trauma. This type of trauma includes any form of maltreatment experienced by children including physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional/psychological abuse, neglect, and witnessing family and domestic violence.

These experiences for children can impact the way their brains grow and develop as well as how they approach relationships. Complex trauma can result in children experiencing difficulties across different areas of their development, including their communication skills. Research has identified that most children who have experienced complex trauma have more difficulties with their communication skills than other children their same age. Therefore, speech pathologists have a critical role to play in supporting children and young people who have been affected by trauma.

Trauma can also be experienced by people with neurodivergent conditions, disabilities, mental health needs, and communication and swallowing difficulties, where the stress they experience as a result of their conditions/needs overwhelms their capacity to cope.

War veterans, refugees, those exposed to natural disasters, and others who have undergone terrifying experiences can also experience trauma that may affect their speech, language and communication skills. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples continue to experience trauma as a result of colonisation and its ongoing impact.

Considering the high co-morbidity of trauma, mental ill-health and communication difficulties, speech pathology plays an essential role in the delivery of therapeutic services to individuals who have experienced trauma.

Fact sheets - Mental Health

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Fact sheets - Adversity and Trauma

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Podcast episodes - Mental Health

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Podcast episodes - Trauma

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Resources for mental health clinicians

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Other useful materials

Fact sheets - Mental Health

Speech Pathology Australia has published a fact sheet and infographic on mental health: Speech Pathology in Mental Health fact sheet (and Infographic).

The UK-equivalent to Speech Pathology Australia, the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists, has published the following fact sheets that complement the one published by Speech Pathology Australia:

Fact sheets - Adversity and Trauma

The Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists has published the following fact sheets and resources on adversity and trauma:

The US-equivalent of Speech Pathology Australia, the American Speech-language-Hearing Association, has the following articles available:

Podcast episodes – Mental Health

Below are episodes relating to mental health that have been recorded for the Speech Pathology Australia podcast, Speak Up. Subscribe to the podcast for future episodes.

S02 Episode 6: Kids behaving badly: The link between behaviour and language - Dr Karen James

S01 Episode 12: Child and youth mental health - Ms Chantele Edlington

S01 Episode 16: Adolescent and adult inpatient mental health - Ms Gemma White and Ms Kelly Jones

S02 Episode 10: Managing COVID-19 related stress - Dr Claire Mayers

S02 Episode 14: Restrictive practices: What are they and why do speech pathologists need to know - Ms Breanne Hetherington and Ms Jo Wilkinson

S02 Episode 19: Speech pathology in older adult mental health - Ms Melanie Breese

S03 Episode 35: Supporting the mental health needs of people with aphasia - Dr Caroline Baker

S04 Episode 19: A journey into paediatric feeding, infant mental health and responsive feeding therapy - Ms Carly Vaness and Ms Kate Broderick

S05 Episode 02: It’s All Around Us: Working with Mental Health Needs in Speech Pathology - Kerry Holland and Jessica Carpenter

S05 Episode 07: Mental health and trauma: Every Speech Pathologists Business - Kizzy Searle

Podcast episodes – Trauma

Below are episodes relating to trauma that have been recorded for the Speech Pathology Australia podcast, Speak Up. Subscribe to the podcast for future episodes.

Episode: Complex trauma and communication: The speech pathology role - Kate Headley

S03 Episode 2: Working with young people who have experienced trauma – Kate Headley

Episode: A podcast from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association - ASHA Voices: In the Schools, an SLP Responds to Trauma

S04 Episode 28: Considering Adverse Childhood Experiences in Paediatric Speech Pathology - Sarah Verdon

S04 Episode 29: Screening for Unmet Needs in Paediatric Speech Pathology - Anna Kearns and Lauren Hamill

Resources for mental health clinicians

There are a number of resources available for mental health clinicians. (Speech pathologists looking for professional development in this area should visit these page: Mental Health and/or Trauma).

Speech, language and communication needs in youth mental health This graphic is associated with the hyperlink that precedes it and indicates the document is in PDF.
This clinical practice resource is to help mental health clinicians become more communication aware in your practice, find further resources and points of referral, and share up-to-date clinical information at your setting about speech, language and communication needs.

Reference guide: how to support young people with speech, language and communication needs This graphic is associated with the hyperlink that precedes it and indicates the document is in PDF.
The reference guide provides strategies and tips that mental health clinicians can use to support young people with speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) to navigate mental health settings.

Mind Your Words is a free online course, from the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists, designed to support those working with children and young people with mental health needs.


Three webinars, each presented by Association members with extensive experience working in child and youth mental health services:

  1. Communication expectations across different settings

Presented by speech pathologists, Mary Fleming and Suzanne Lim, this webinar is suitable for anyone working with adolescents and young people in education, employment and support service settings (e.g. housing, health, drug and alcohol, mental health, or peer support).

The presenters introduce a visual metaphor to explore how communication expectations change according to the setting in which a young person participates. They examine the fictional experience of a young woman with seemingly reasonable everyday communication skills, who struggles in her post-secondary studies, part-time work and job seeking.

View additional resources related to this webinar (There are associated handouts associated with this webinar – available on the Orygen website.)

  1. Understanding speech, language and communication needs in mental health

Presented by speech pathologists, Frances Saunders and Liz Morkham, this webinar is for professionals providing mental health care for adolescents and young people.

Viewers will develop an understanding of common speech, language and communication difficulties in young people attending youth mental health services. The webinar will present an overview of how to recognise speech, language and communication needs, and the impact of these needs on individuals and mental health interventions.

  1. Strategies for working with young people with additional speech, language and communication needs

Presented by speech pathologists, Chantele Edlington and Laura Caire, this webinar will help mental health clinicians to feel more confident and equipped to work with clients presenting with speech, language and communication needs. The webinar focusses on utilisation and implementation of strategies, particularly visual aids, to increase efficacy of clinical work and clients’ engagement in therapy.

Other useful materials

Emerging Minds has developed a number of resources for a range of audiences including clinicians, parents/carers and educators:

Beyond Blue has developed a couple of mental health coaching programs that run over 6 sessions, are FREE and don't require a GP referral.

  • If you're an individual who would like to improve your ability to manage everyday life stresses such as work, study, relationships, health or loneliness, please see: NewAccess – mental health coaching
  • If you're a small business owner and keen to develop your skills around managing stress and overwhelm using straightforward problem-solving approaches, please see: NewAccess for Small Business Owners

Please note SPA does not recommend or endorse any specific non-SPA course so it will be important for you to assess whether they are likely to offer quality training and meet your unique learning needs.