Communication issues

Humans have evolved with a drive to develop relationships, as this increases our chances of survival. One factor of importance to our ability to form strong, successful relationships is communication; good communication brings us together, and enables others to understand how we feel and help support our psychological wellbeing.

We communicate with each other in many different ways. For example, we can communicate verbally through language, or non-verbally with body language. This can be as simple as reading the expression on another’s face, or hugging someone.

It’s easy to take the ability to communicate with each other for granted and not appreciate its importance unless there’s a problem. However, for many people and for various reasons, communication issues can be the source of challenges in  relationships and wellbeing.

Below are common types of communication issues, how it can affect people’s mental health, and methods to improve communication in daily life.

Types of communication issues

Communication issues can affect adults and children alike, sometimes temporarily, or as a symptom of a broader mental health challenge.

Communication skills that individuals may struggle with include:

Low empathy

Empathy is putting ourselves in the shoes of another to understand how they feel. Expressing this understanding underpins effective communication and our ability to build strong relationships. Without it, those around us do not feel understood.

Lack of assertiveness

Many people have difficulty asserting their needs. Instead, it’s quite common for people to:

Emotion-driven reactivity

It’s easy to become caught up in strong, negative emotions at times, particularly in the heat of an argument. In this emotional mindset, we might react to others in ways that are unhelpful or upsetting to others. This can damage our relationships.

Inflexible style

People are unique; we all learn and communicate in slightly different ways. We risk our message being misunderstood if we don’t adjust our communication to match our audience. For example, if we use overly complex language when speaking to a child, they are less likely to understand.

Assumption making

It’s easy to make a mistaken assumption about what’s being said, particularly as we use our devices to communicate more by text. We tend to race ahead in our own minds without really listening, reading, or comprehending the message.

Not listening actively

Active listening involves giving our full concentration to what’s being said and providing responses to show that we’re listening and understanding. People feel invalidated when we lose attention, get distracted, or interrupt when they are talking. We also run the risk of missing details and not understanding their message.

Prevalence of communication issues

Communication issues are very common, and often go hand-in-hand with problems in relationships, work, or school.

One study found that 45% of children referred to services with a mental health concern also had language or communication difficulties (1).

Communication issues earlier in life can stay with us through adulthood. A US study found that 22% of adults aged 65 and older experienced communication issues, and that this was linked to having:

These factors are likely to increase our risk of mental health challenges (2).

Communication issues and mental health

Communication difficulties can sometimes be a part of a mental health diagnosis, including, but not limited to:

When communication issues and mental health challenges are in the same picture, it’s helpful to have additional supports, skills training, and therapy.

The DSM 5 recognizes social (pragmatic) communication disorder as a childhood neurodevelopmental diagnosis that impacts on communication. This condition is characterized by persistent difficulty with verbal and nonverbal communication. You can read more about it in this PDF released by the American Psychiatric Association.

Ways to address communication issues

If communication issues are affecting your life, consider a combination of the following:

Therapy for communication issues

Many therapeutic approaches can be tailored to help with communication issues. The best-fitting type of therapy depends on how communication issues are affecting your life. For example, think about whether it's having a broad impact on your life, or limited to family interactions or relationships. Consider the following therapy types:

Before choosing, consider how the different therapy types resonate with you. If you’re not sure, your prospective therapist is a great person to talk it over with and help with the decision-making.

What to look for in a therapist for communication issues

Factors to take into account when choosing a therapist for communication issues include:

Find therapists specializing in communication issues

Find therapists who specialize in communication issues on Zencare. Search by insurance, fees, and location; watch therapist introductory videos; and book free initial calls to find the right therapist for you!

Sources and references