The Psychological Impact of Stuttering on Adolescents

by Team Stamurai

Stuttering treatment may consist of fluency shaping and stuttering modification methods. These are approaches that can teach someone to stutter more fluently. However, these methods only address the surface components or physical symptoms of stuttering – repetition, prolongation, and blocking.

Why Should We Focus On The Mental Health Of Anyone Who Stutters?

Stuttering is a multi-dimensional, speech-motor disorder. Several decades of research has shed light on the causes of stuttering, the signs and symptoms, and the ways to reduce its severity. Nonetheless, there's not a lot of research on the less-obvious symptoms and effects of speech disfluency.

The less-obvious symptoms may include anxiety, stress, panic, embarrassment, frustration, and confusion. It is indeed common for adolescents and adults to go through intense self-doubt and self-criticism as a result of their stuttering.

Anxiety May Come From Stuttering

Social anxiety, generalized anxiety, and stress are common among people who stutter. However, social anxiety disorder (SAD) and general anxiety disorder (GAD) aren't formally diagnosed unless the symptoms contribute to diminishing quality of life.

In the case of people who stutter (PWS), the fear of being judged for their disfluency, embarrassment and shame worsen persisting anxieties about social interactions. The common symptoms of SAD may include –

  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Muscle tension
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness or light-headedness

These symptoms may also worsen the stuttering, which can further contribute to the symptoms of anxiety.

The Progress of Depression among the PWS

Stuttering may not cause depression. However, the inability to express oneself over the years, the recurring instances of social anxiety, withdrawal from social life, and the self-imposed restrictions may contribute to morbid feelings that make depression worse.

The most common symptoms of depression may include –

  • General lack of interest in everyday activities
  • Increased sleep and fatigue
  • Problems falling asleep
  • Irritability
  • Changes in appetite and fluctuations in weight
  • Sudden outbursts and uncontrollable emotions
  • Feeling of hopelessness.

Currently, the jury is still out on what exactly causes depression. There are several theories regarding its pathophysiology. However, it is quite common among the PWS.

Stuttering and Perception of the Self

People who stutter are not just afraid of their stutter, but they are anxious about the way their listeners might perceive them as a result of the way they speak.

While stuttering is quite common, many have faced negative reactions from our listeners. It has contributed to negative feelings and attitudes about speaking and social situations.

Negative attitudes from parents, friends, and close acquaintances may contribute to poor self-esteem. The precipitation of poor self-esteem may begin when the individual is a child and may continue well into adulthood.

According to Boyle (2009), the negative judgments may be the result of the innate belief that PWS can control their core stuttering behavior. Stuttering is completely involuntary and PWS are in no way to blame for their speech disfluency.

Boyle proceeded to show that PWS prefer not talking at all rather than exhibiting their stuttering. PWS are highly self-conscious and may even have decreased self-esteem.

The Effect of Stuttering On Intimate Relationships

A study in 1969 showed that only 7% of the participants felt that PWS is acceptable for marriage. Stuttering is a negative attribute when adolescents and young adults are looking for romantic relationships.

Collins and Blood (1990) show that there are several ways to mitigate the problems or negative effects stuttering has on relationships. They may include going out in a group, virtual courtships, or choosing a casual environment that aids fluency.

Sadly, a majority of people avoid relationships with PWS as is shown by the studies conducted by Shears (1969) and Boberg (1990).

Many PWS choose to stay single due to their social anxieties and the fear of being judged by their romantic interest.

Stuttering Affects Career Choices

Adolescence is the time when individuals delve into positive fantasies about their future. Some dream of becoming pilots and engineers, while others may dream of becoming successful chefs or actors.

Research shows that years of feeling rejected takes a toll on the positive imagination of PWS. Children and adolescents who stutter begin to restrict their dreams and censor their goals.

Misconceptions like “those who stutter are bad at communication” diminish the self-confidence and aspiration of adolescents with speech disfluencies.

Their weakened confidence coupled with a dwindling self-image often finds them holding back during job applications and interviews.

Stuttering Therapy and Counseling for Better Mental Health

Stuttering is not a completely psychological phenomenon. Depression and anxiety may make stuttering worse, but it is a multi-dimensional disorder. Genetics, neural functions, and cellular factors contribute to speech disfluency in people.

Stuttering has a significant impact on the mental health of the person who stutters. Going through life sounding different from other people isn't easy. The years of bullying, rejection, and shame take a toll on one's mental health.

Therefore, addressing stuttering with speech therapy isn't enough. Speech therapy may help you increase your fluency and reclaim control of your speech, but it can't undo the years of abuse your mental health has gone through.

Research shows that psychological counseling or simple talk therapy can have a huge positive impact on a person's self-image. Counseling is a holistic approach that addresses negative emotions and attitudes.

Stuttering counseling deals with both the behavior and feelings of the client. Clinicians address the guilt, shame, and fear that PWS go through in their everyday life during therapy.

Adolescents who stutter can learn to navigate their fears, anxieties, shame, and embarrassment with the support of a certified counselor while working on speech techniques with their speech therapists.

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