Unless you have one, a stammer can be very difficult to describe. I have been a stammerer for most of my young adult life, more recently however, has my speech began to worsen significantly. Whilst to some, I may sound fluent and articulate, it is only when I begin to describe the process behind each word, do people begin to understand. It is a cycle of, what feels like, self inflicted verbal torture. As I open my mouth, I must first prepare myself, psychologically for what could possibly be a mortifying experience. I shower myself with encouraging buzz phrases like, ‘you can do it’ and ‘it’s gonna be okay’. Once I’ve got myself past this stage of self motivation, I attempt the first word. This is the mortifying bit. I freeze. My muscles begin to tense, involuntarily, I feel my heart rate significantly increase, my hands become sweaty, and for all of 5 seconds I stop breathing and enter a state of panic. I look around me and it feels like the whole world is watching me, I feel like crying but I can’t because that would only draw more attention to myself. So I don’t. I keep on pushing and six word sentence becomes a circus show for the people around me.

This isn’t a rare. This is everyday of my life, and the 150,000 young stammerers in England. There are things I see my peers, even my youngest siblings do, interactions they have and it hurts me knowing that I can’t. Asking the bus driver for a weekly ticket, paying for my shopping. Even interactions initiated by other people prove to be difficult. When the sales adviser behind the till at Topshop asks me if I want a receipt, I shake my head. When the lovely old woman on the bus asks me how my day was, I smile, but don’t respond. When my professor selects me to answer a question in the seminar, I hyperventilate and shake my head, not because I don’t know the answer, I do. But because I fear the anxiety attack that will follow.

We talk about the physical characteristics and symptoms of a stammer, and many people are aware of them. But often people don’t understand that stammering is not just a speech impediment. For many, stammering is psychological war fare, lowering the self esteem and damaging the confidence of hundreds and thousands of young stammerers across England. This International stammering day, we recognise those who stammer, show them that their voice is still important regardless of how long it takes them to construct a sentence. Here are 5 things you can do to help a stammerer

Be patient. Feeling like you are wasting someone’s time because of your inability to speak is a daunting feeling. By being patient you are allowing them time and space so they don’t feel under pressure
Do not finish our sentences. This is the least helpful, most condescending thing you could do. Not only does it remind us that we are struggling to speak, but it makes us feel like the recipient is impatient.
Don’t interrupt. This one is self explanatory
Be empathetic. Although this may be hard, try and imagine yourself in their shoes.
Show your support. Be kind and non judgemental. Show the person that you are listening and that they can talk to you.

For more information on stammering or how to support someone with a stammer, please visit

For information on how to support someone suffering from anxiety, please visit
Thelma Khupe