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Mental Illness and Communication Impairment – Is There A Connection?

Mental health has been a growing field of study for researchers in more recent years in order to spread awareness and stop the stigmas associated with mental illnesses.  Some of those who have encountered mental illness in their lives have also experienced symptoms of self isolation and communication difficulties, which has led to the inability of affected individuals to feel “normal”.  But have you ever considered why these people are affected in this way?  A world renowned psychiatric nurse, Dr. Mary Moller, stated, “Individuals with mental illness have a communication disorder. They also have a ‘diseased’ brain which affects their communication abilities” (Moller, 1996).  This means that because the brain is affected by the mental condition one has, the individual may not be able to think and speak clearly, or may even have difficulty using body language appropriately.  The article, Speech-Language Pathologists Serving Clients With Mental Illness: A Collaborative Treatment Approach, adds that persons with schizophrenia have been described as  being unable to interpret and respond to incoming messages (information-processing difficulties), not having much to say or being unable to maintain a conversation (poverty of speech/speech content), displaying limited/nonexistent facial expressions and gestures (blunted affect), displaying a lack of interest in socializing, and exhibiting difficulty making decisions and solving problems.  People who are faced with the battle against mental illness often have cognitive impairments (memory, attention, executive functions), which can impact their ability to speak, read, write, understand, think and communicate socially.
At Simone Friedman SLS, we often see clients who have depression and/or post traumatic stress disorder as a primary issue and/or secondary to a motor vehicle accident or some other type of trauma.  They arrive complaining of some of the following issues:

  • Difficulty talking to people, following the conversation and remembering information
  • keeping track of and remembering what they are reading in a book or newspaper
  • Losing their temper more quickly and saying things that they don’t mean to loved ones
  • Difficulty finding words when speaking
  • Planning, organizing and breaking down projects at work or school
  • Feeling isolated and not wanting to be social anymore

These are all common cognitive and communication complaints where our Speech-Language Pathologists and Occupational Therapists can be of assistance at Simone Friedman SLS.

Major mental health concerns arise early in life just as speech and language problems do.  In fact, there has been a lot of literature questioning the order for which these conditions occur.  Meaning, does the speech-language disorder come first and result in a mental health difficulty?  Or, does the mental illness occur resulting in a speech-language disorder or difficulty?  These questions are still being researched with no conclusive result.  However, regardless of what comes first – both need to be addressed.   If you have a child, it is important to be aware of possible warning signs that may indicate the presence of a  mental illness:

  • Mood changes
  • Intense feelings
  • Behaviour changes
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Physical symptoms
  • Physical harm
  • Substance abuse

Mental illness is so much more than one single issue.  It encompasses many different areas, including language and having the ability and willingness to speak.  Interestingly, when a person fails to communicate at an optimal level, they are more likely to be overwhelmed with confusion and develop mental health issues.

At Simone Friedman SLS, the highly trained and compassionate speech language pathologists recognize that they play a central role in the lives of children and adults who experience mental and behavioural disorders.  They take the time to understand the individual and their specific issue, and build a strong relationship along the way that conquers any challenge at hand.  This is what makes the job of a speech language pathologist so rewarding: knowing that they are making a huge impact on the language and communication skills of a patient but above all, helping to improve their quality of life.


Kapolnek, K., Nocak, J. (2001) Speech-Language Pathologists Serving Clients With Mental Illness: A Collaborative Treatment Approach. Contemporary Issues in Communication Science and Disorders. 28. 111-122.

1998-2016. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. Mental illness in children: Know the signs. Healthy Lifestyle-Children’s Health. Retrieved from:

Cohen, A., Covington, M., Dinzeo, T., McGovern, J. (2014) Speech deficits in serious mental illness: a cognitive resource issue? Schizophrenia Research. 173-179.


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