Mental Health Monday–Hit the Mute Button


Author and blogging buddy, Lynn Rush, asks:

What would make someone go mute? How would they recover?

Great question, Lynn!

The DSM-IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual-IV) categorizes a disorder called Selective Mutism. It is thought to be an anxiety disorder in children. Kids with the disorder do not speak in certain social situations. They may speak quite normally at home, but when confronted with an anxiety provoking situation (school, for example), they become mute and do not speak. These children tend to have higher incidence of being victims of abuse. Treatment includes therapy and sometimes medication (ex. Prozac).

In adults, mutism can be caused by neurologic syndromes such as advanced Alzheimer’s Disease, Mad Cow Disease (aka Creutzfeldt-Jacob Disease), frontotemporal dementias, and catatonia (caused by severe depression or psychosis). Generally, the frontal lobes of the brain are damaged or adversely affected in some way (which the above listed illnesses do). Mutism can also be caused by damage to the vocal cords.

There are cases of adults who experience mutism after a severe trauma. Mutism can be a symptom in disorders such as psychotic illnesses, PTSD, and depression. Treatment can be difficult because you can’t force the person to speak. Various therapies such as CBT (which includes stimulus fading, desensitization, and shaping). Some recover spontaneously, with the help of therapy, or go years without speaking.

There’s not too much information that I found about this topic, so if anyone has any other information, please chime in!

Keep the questions coming, gang! Be sure to check out Lydia’s Medical Monday post and Sarah’s psychologically related post. Remember, these posts are for writing purposes only and are NOT to be construed as medical advice or treatment.

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19 comments on “Mental Health Monday–Hit the Mute Button

  1. Sarah says:

    Great post, Laura. I love this topic! I think it’s important to say that there’s a question among experts as to whether abuse actually causes selective mutism, or whether children with language/communication difficulties are more likely to be victimized. I’ve read a few studies of children with diagnosed selective mutism that found that they were no more likely to have experienced trauma than any other child. I’ve read one study of traumatized children that showed that a few of them exhibited mutism–but we know that’s not evidence to show the trauma caused the mutism, as it might have pre-existed the trauma. I’ve also treated several young children with selective mutism, and it is so hard for both children and families! Still, it’s great to see an anxious and mute child gradually blossom and come into his/her own.

  2. Fascinating! One of my characters suffers from PTSD – it may up the tension if he can’t talk for hours after a nightmare. Is that a likely scenario?

  3. Linda Gray says:

    So interesting. We’ve all heard about children who don’t talk–often very young ones with older siblings, and the mute child seems to think the siblings do all the talking for them. But that’s short-lived. The kind of anxiety or neurologic trauma you’re talking about opens a whole world of perception into this fascinating phenomenon. (My first thought when I read your title? Muting my tv during those blaring commercial breaks! Uh, oh, I’m so literal. AND I watch tv. sigh.)

  4. roguemutt says:

    I’d never heard of “mutism” before. In really young children how would you tell the difference between mutism or something like autism?

  5. Vicki Tremper says:

    Fascinating question and answer.

  6. I wish some people had a Mute Button 🙂

  7. Lynn Rush says:

    Awesome. Thanks for tackling this topic. My character was brutally traumatized around the age of twelve and hasn’t spoken a word since (she’s now 19). She even learned sign language. But she can draw/paint, and what she draws is …. well ….. troubled. So, I’m investigating this topic. It’s been interesting to say the least!

  8. Donna Hole says:

    Interesting. I never thought about the issue with adults.

    ……..dhole

  9. These are always so fascinating! And it’s interesting that there are different causes depending on age. 🙂

  10. Thanks for the info. Very interesting. Blessings to you, Laura…

  11. Lydia K says:

    Great response Laura! And great question. That would pique my interest in a novel!

  12. Amanda says:

    Fascinating post! My mother-in-law used to give me articles on selective mutism because one of my daughter wouldn’t talk to her. She went through a period where she wouldn’t talk to a lot of people she wasn’t comfortable with. At home she talked non-stop. But she’s my darling battling a few mental health issues, The selective mutism, if that’s what is was, was a minor thing.

  13. This is seriously interesting. I have to admit that especially with mutism in children, I always kind of assumed they were literary devices. It’s really interesting to learn that there are real cases in which it happens, for real reasons.

    Thanks for the post!

  14. Catherine Johnson says:

    That is fascinating Laura. Do you think the depression one is the odd one out because it is probably caused by a lack of a desire to talk rather than a medical reason?

  15. Talli Roland says:

    Hm, interesting reading! Thank you for that!

  16. Ciara Knight says:

    Great question, Lynn. you’ve got my attention on this new story. 🙂 Thanks for taking the time to answer this, Laura. Great job as always.

  17. Kari Marie says:

    Wow! A very interesting disorder. Thanks for sharing.

  18. Hi Laura,

    This is fascinating… I have a similar situation in my novel from a head trauma and blindness and high anxiety.

  19. Kattymul says:

    Hi Im usually a reasonably confifent person who enjoys socialising with others.
    My problem has been when I go away on holiday and leave my comfort zone. Several times now ive been away on holidays with friends and whilst there after 2-3 days of the holiday I suddenly clam up and feel like I dont know what to say, its like this feeling comes over me and I dont know what to say. I then get distressed as I feel worried that they will notjice and think im behaving oddly so I try really hard to cover up by forcing myself and then get all the oaranoid that im not being myself. Why is this? Im not like it at home. Its only when away and with the same people for long sttetches of time.

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