Case study

Identifying the link between language problems and mental health issues in children

Our researchers are looking at what we know about the impact of language problems on children’s mental health.

A child sitting alone on some grass
A child sitting alone outdoors on grass.

The issue

A large number of children and young people with mental health problems have language problems, and these problems are often undetected. The link between language skills and mental health is not well understood, with little research on what helps children with language problems into good mental health. How do language needs impact on prevention, intervention and identification of mental health issues in children?

The aim of this project was to fast track further vital research on the impact of children’s language and communication needs on their mental health.

The research

Our team from York Emerald Lab worked with three key groups over a year to try to speed up research on mental health and language problems. Bringing together children and their families with clinicians and researchers, our project looked at what families and practitioners want to know, and what would help researchers to conduct the work needed to get these answers. 

This project was funded by Emerging Minds, a group who support child and adolescent mental health research, using online surveys and workshops. Respondents included parents, speech and language therapists, mental health professionals, education professionals and academics.

The outcome

Using the responses from participants, our team developed a framework for topics for priority in the future research. They identified several themes spanning questions around what the relationships are between language, communication and mental health, but also across clinical questions about what could be done to improve outcomes for children now. Many stakeholders asked what could be done to help and improve the detection, care and outcomes for children with language and communication needs.

The project calls for better bridges between mental health and speech and language professionals to investigate ways to make mental health treatments more accessible for children who struggle to access talking therapies. 

Next steps for the project group include an event in Oxford where researchers will have the chance to pitch some of their research ideas to stakeholders. The York EMERALD lab also regularly hosts events for Developmental Language Disorder Awareness Day, in October.

“It would be great if there could be research on building and developing relationships with friends. This is something we’re worried about that if our son can’t communicate well that people won’t want to be friends with him…”

Workshop attendee, Parent of a child with SLCN and ADHD

Additional information

Find out more about York Emerald Lab.