Mary Hartshorne I CAN Head Of Evidence

Well-being and communication – not just for dogs!

There’s a ‘well-being show’ at our local showground next month, and with writing this blog in mind I was curious to see what that entailed: a range of therapies from Reiki and Neurolinguistic programming through to ear candles – and then interestingly a workshop on teaching communication to your pets!

What do you think of when we talk about well-being?

Definitions vary; the New Economics Foundation describes well-being as ‘how people feel and how they function, both on a personal and social level, and how they evaluate their lives as a whole’, while the World Health Organisation talks about mental health as a state of well-being. This close link with mental health is recognised in a multi-dimensional approach to childhood well-being often including three components:

  • mental well-being (your state of mind, how you are feeling)
  • psychological well-being (how self confident you are, self acceptance)
  • social well-being (how connected you feel, your sense of belonging)

There is a general agreement that at a minimum, well-being includes the presence of positive emotions and moods (e.g. contentment, happiness), the absence of negative emotions (e.g. depression, anxiety), satisfaction with life, fulfilment and positive functioning. In simple terms, well-being can be described as judging life positively and feeling good.

So what has all this to do with children and young people’s speech, language and communication? With good communication skills critical to success in all three components, and core to the ‘fulfilment and positive functioning’ described above it is perhaps not surprising that children with speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) have been found to be at risk of poorer well-being and less resilient. Children with SLCN often experience family life and school in a way that can be distinct from those without SLCN. Identified risk factors for poor well-being in children and young people with SLCN include peer relationship difficulties, concerns about academic achievement and about independence. In reality, a change to well-being is often what we see as a result of supporting children and young people’s SLCN – for example a reduction in anxiety and fear, improved emotional control and coping strategies.

But there is more! At I CAN, we have been developing the way we measure the impact of our work. With ‘well-being’ a potentially strong indicator of impact, our audit of available measures showed that the majority of them look at subjective well-being: how children and young people view their own mental state. There’s an issue with this, as children and young people with SLCN often find reflecting on their own strengths and weaknesses quite challenging – but we liked this suite of measurement booklets for primary school, secondary school and college students, which use simple, accessible language. In the end, we decided to go down a different route and are currently piloting a well-being scale which familiar adults use to rate children’s well-being – we’ll you posted!

So although the dogs get a good deal at my local well-being show, I was disappointed (though not surprised!) to see ‘speech and language therapy’ left off the menu!  In the meantime check out your own levels of mental well-being on this handy NHS Choices self assessment tool.