Interweaving anxiety disorder associated with stuttering remains unrecognized

While stuttering impacts the lives of approximately 1-2 percent of adults and around 4-5 percent of children, the mental health impact of this disorder largely remains unrecognized. This in turn, compromises the full effectiveness of speech pathology treatment and prevents people who stutter seeking evidence-based psychological therapies provided by qualified mental health professionals.

Research shows that over 20 per cent of 7-12 year olds seeking stuttering therapy and, at least 40 per cent of adults, suffer the additional disability of an interweaving anxiety disorder. Like stuttering itself, an interweaving anxiety disorder impacts dramatically on an individual’s social and occupational wellbeing.

“Sadly, at this time not a lot is known about the mental health impact or the interweaving anxiety disorder associated with stuttering in an Australian context,” said Gaenor Dixon, the National President of Speech Pathology Australia.

“While stuttering has been shown to be associated with same quality of life impairments as stroke, diabetes and heart disease, it receives far less attention and publicity, and remains poorly understood by the wider Australian community.

“The early diagnosis of stuttering and access to speech pathology remains key, though the management of related anxiety may be essential for some individuals.”

There is little doubt that people with significant anxiety should be provided access to a qualified professional, such as a clinical psychologist. For many, the combined approach of a speech pathologist and clinical psychologist is needed to achieve the best results for individuals who stutter.

Australian Speak Easy Association (the peak body in Australia for people who stutter) and Speech Pathology Australia (the peak body for speech pathologists) are seeking urgent government action to ensure support for greater research into the relationship between anxiety and stuttering, as well as greater awareness particularly in schools.

“For some people stuttering is far more than just a disability related to the moment of speech”, says Mark Irwin, National President of the Australian Speak Easy Association.

“Instead sufferers are known to avoid social encounters and limit use of words during conversation. They say what they can rather than what they know to be appropriate or truly reflective of their thoughts. They make life choices, including subject choices at school, based on worry about the impact of their inability to communicate, and how their stuttering might be perceived by others”.

Both organizations are seeking a three pronged approach to this problem.

1. Recognition that mental health diagnoses for people who stutter are known to impact negatively on the full effectiveness of speech therapy, and therefore there is the need for comprehensive assessment and service provision if therapy outcomes are to be improved.

2. Recognition that a social anxiety disorder that interweaves with stuttering is a significant health condition that impacts dramatically on emotional well-being, social functioning and occupational achievement.

3. Funding for research into the efficacy of combining speech pathology and psychological treatment for stuttering.

These matters will be discussed at the Australian Speak Easy Association national conference to be held in Melbourne on 26-28 October.

The conference, which is open to all professionals treating stuttering as well as members of the general public, will feature an update on genetic research and a free parent /child workshop. More details are available from the Australian Speak Easy Association website or 0414 731 565.

Monday 22 October is International Stuttering Awareness Day.

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