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Selective mutism

A severe anxiety condition where a person is physically unable to speak in certain situations

Selective mutism, sometimes referred to as elective mutism, is a severe anxiety disorder where a person is physically unable to speak in certain situations. The expectation to talk to certain people triggers a freeze response and talking becomes impossible. Affecting 1 in 140 people, selective mutism a real diagnosable condition that is generally unheard of or misunderstood.

There are many misconceptions around selective mutism, and these misconceptions can lead to isolation and further anxiety for the individual. Some of the most harmful misconceptions of Selective Mutism are that the individual is simply refusing to speak, the individual is being stubborn/rude, or that it is a childhood condition that can be outgrown.

In reality, there isn’t one known cause for an individual to develop Selective Mutism, and it can occur in all ages and be presented in different forms. Some of the most common symptoms of Selective Mutism are:

  • A sudden stillness/frozen facial expressions when the induvial is expected to speak to someone
  • Avoiding eye contact with others
  • Appearing shy or withdrawn
  • Avoiding verbal and non-verbal communication.

There is also progressive mutism, which is considered to be a progression of selective mutism. Progressive mutism is where the induvial is unable to talk to anyone for a long period of time, sometimes weeks, months or years.

There are many ways to help someone with selective mutism. One of the main ways to help is to not pressure an individual to speak, and then not to make a fuss if they do talk. Finding different, non-verbal methods of communication is key to helping, as is educating others on selective mutism.


If you or anyone you know requires support, our Advice and Support Service is open Monday to Friday, 10 am to 4 pm, where advisers can signpost you to local support that fits your needs, including our Change Mental Health services. We offer initial advice on money worries and help to deal with emergencies.

Contact 0808 8010 515, email us at or fill out the enquiry form on the Advice and Support Service page.


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