How SEND can affect mental health

How SEND can affect mental health

In this SEND Youth Forum session, the young people discussed mental health. The discussion started around why young people with SEND may be more likely to have mental health challenges than their peers and how mental health and SEND intersect. The young people shared a range of responses from some of their personal experiences to what their peers have felt.

How we feel…

Low self-esteem and low self-confidence were recognised by the group as some of the more common experiences that a young person may have because of a negative view of themselves and their diagnosis. Some young people with SEND have negative feelings linked to feeling ‘different’ or having different needs to their peers. As a result the young people can feel socially excluded and can have challenges building and maintaining friendships. This may cause them to feel left out and can result in  feelings of depression and anxiety.


Many young people may use masking as a coping strategy in their day-to-day life such as at school or in college. Masking is when someone disguises parts of their character to fit in better, this can include mimicking others. This can have a harmful effect on mental health as it is often exhausting and can result in feeling ‘burnt out’.

Feeling overwhelmed

Another theme that was highlighted was feeling overwhelmed in school by both academic pressures and behavioural expectations. There are instances of young people feeling as if they are expected to work at a standard that they feel is unattainable and when the young people internalise these pressures it negatively impacts them. Particularly when they feel the school or college is not providing them with accommodations that can help them feel like these goals are in reach so they feel more motivated to work towards them.

Furthermore, both young people and parents have emphasised that some young people do not have positive relationships with school staff and that they sometimes feel labelled by their teachers. When a young person is called out by staff or asked to leave the classroom repeatedly they can start to feel excluded from their peers. Particularly when a young person spends less time in the classroom due to internal/ external exclusions or a reduced timetable this can amplify the feelings of social exclusion and feeling left out. This results in them experiencing feelings of social anxiety and nervousness when they re-join the class.

Each child with SEND has a unique and distinct experience and it is important to consider how their diagnosis can influence their mental health and how they are supported to overcome some of these challenges in different environments.

Need support?

If you are concerned about your mental health or the mental health of another person, there is a useful list of services here.

If you are interested to learn more about the lived experiences of young people with SEND in Slough please contact Jovi 07709525687 or [email protected] .





How SEND can affect mental health

Learning from the second SEND Youth Focus Group

Jovi, our SEND Participation and Engagement Officer, shares the learning from our second SEND Youth Focus Group.

In the latest session the young people discussed the important topics that they would like included in a SEND training for youth leaders. The young people were asked what they would like group leaders to know about SEND. They shared that most importantly that people should refrain from generalising people with SEND. Although SEND is an umbrella term, each child that comes under that umbrella can be vastly different from another. There is a lot of diversity between young people as individuals and even more for those with additional needs, even if they have the same diagnosis.

Each young person with SEND is distinct in the four areas of need:

  1. Communication and interaction
  2. Cognition and learning
  3. Social and emotional health
  4. Sensory and physical needs.

A group member highlighted that “if everyone was the same that the world would be a very boring place”.

The need for patience

The group went on to discuss the significance of patience when working with people with SEND. They highlighted that everyone will learn things at a different pace so it is important to give people time to process responses. Some people may have delayed processing and may feel overwhelmed with the expectation to respond quickly. It was also emphasised not to make individuals feel dumb or treat them poorly because of their differences. The group shared that other useful qualities for staff working with people with additional needs is being understanding, attentive, having the ability to build a rapport, the ability to speak calmly and  quietly and being knowledgeable on SEND.

Joining for the first time

The group were asked what they would find helpful if they joined a session for the first time. They identified some changes that a group leader could make to make joining a group easier for them. The young people said that knowing the content and the structure of the session beforehand will help them know what to expect.  Also, having the opportunity to speak to the session leader before to build a relationship. They agreed that this may also reduce the anxieties of parents/carers. In addition to this, they said that being invited to a session slightly earlier than the rest of the group would help them ease into it rather than walking into a room full of people. It was also emphasised that being given an opt-out option and having a quiet space to go to when feeling overwhelmed or the need to self-regulate will be very helpful.

What does sensory overload feel like?

As part of the session the young people wrote down what overstimulation/ sensory overload feels like to them. The responses read “partial confusion and frustration, stressful, twitchy, annoyed, want to leave a situation quickly”. Another response explained. “It feels similar to drowning, I am unable to breathe normally, or take in sights normally. A pressure rises in my chest and ears and I cannot think clearly. I also become very itchy all over my arms and legs”. The purpose of this is to help other people understand their experiences and reduce the likelihood of making people feel discomfort because understanding is the first step.

We would like to thank the young people for their brilliant contributions to the discussion and their willingness to make changes across Slough to help educate other people about having special educational needs and disabilities. We look forward to a more inclusive Slough.

To get involved with our next SEND youth participation project please contact Jovi 07709525687 or [email protected]

How SEND can affect mental health

First SEND Youth Focus Group

Jovi shares an update on her first Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) focus group.

We sat down with a group of young people with SEND to get their views on youth activities and how they can be improved to be more inclusive. The young people agreed that youth activities have been moving in the right direction but there is still a long way to go to make young people with SEND feel included. We asked the young people the following questions:

What are the barriers to young people with SEND attending youth clubs and activities?

The young people attributed many of the barriers to situations that can cause sensory overstimulation. This includes activities that can get really loud as multiple people are talking or shouting at the same time or if there is noise in the background. This also includes environments that are visually overwhelming with a lot of clutter, or colours. Another barrier that was mentioned by the young people is that they can have difficulty socialising, so the idea of walking into a crowded space where there are lots of people already socialising can be intimidating for some people.

What do youth activities do right when supporting young people with SEND?

The young people shared that they always appreciate having supportive staff members that make the effort to know them. These staff look-out for the young people and can remove them from an environment to help them self-regulate and calm down when they are upset, often using breathing exercises and the 54321 grounding technique. The young people also value having a sensory room to help them calm down in. These rooms can include items or walls with a range of textures to meet sensory seeking needs. They also tend to be dimly lit, have sensory/ fidget toys and calming, low-level music. It is also beneficial when people are split into small groups or there are a small number of attendees and other people with special needs and/ or disabilities.

What changes would you like to see in youth activities around Slough?

The young people discussed the changes they would like to see in youth activities around Slough. They shared that they would like more games that include and encourage interaction and communication as this will support the development of their social skills. They also like being given time to process new information and instructions before they begin a task or activity. Additionally, the young people appreciate not being forced to interact with other people right away when they join a club as this gives them the opportunity to become familiar with their environment and come out of their shell in their own time.

We would like to thank the young people for their brilliant contributions to the discussion and their willingness to make changes across Slough to help educate other people about having special needs and disabilities.

To get involved with our next SEND youth participation project please contact Jovi 07709525687 or [email protected]