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Bilingual: How Mental Health Interpreters Make Tough Talks Easier

Posted by Ethan N. on January 20, 2024.

Although mental health interpreters do create particular difficulties for both patients and interpreters, clinical settings in general must provide patients with linguistic access.

But why, in the context of mental health care, are mental health document translation services so important? Read on to discover more about the connection!

1. The Importance of Language in Mental Health Treatment

Every language includes nuances, idioms, and expressions that have deeper meanings than can be translated into its literal form. In the context of mental health, these distinctions can carry a lot of weight. You can communicate complicated thoughts and feelings more effectively in your mother language by making use of these linguistic quirks, which will help your mental health professional fully understand your experiences.


Our stories and how we interpret our own experiences are shaped by language. The language, tone, and cultural allusions used while talking about mental health issues might affect how we comprehend and interpret our difficulties. By creating a narrative in your mother tongue that reflects your cultural background, you can help others better understand your journey to mental wellness.

2. What is a Mental Health Interpreter?

Mental health interpreting is different from medical interpreting. Unfortunately, medical interpreters are frequently sent to translate for mental health contacts, and interpreters with medical interpretation training are frequently assigned to do so. While there are some parallels between medical interpretation and mental health interpretation, each requires a unique set of talents, as well as the judgment to know when one set of skills is more suited in any given circumstance.

No matter the issue, mental health interpreters have certain difficulties. The requirement to see and interpret the patient’s facial expressions and body language, as well as the need for the patient to primarily gaze at the therapist when talking, add to the challenge of listening and interpreting at the same time.

3. Challenges Faced by Non-English Speaking Patients

The patient’s capacity to make decisions about their health (such as “Should I get vaccinated?”) and to access health services once those decisions have been made (such as “Where are vaccines available?” or “How do I make an appointment?”) is influenced by their level of health literacy and access to reliable information. 


Their lack of faith in healthcare institutions and large health organizations may further deter people with inadequate English proficiency from seeking medical care. 

By developing ties with the populations they serve, community clinics and organizations have contributed to closing this gap.

When they believe their needs are not being heard because of a language barrier, many patients understandably become irritated. Some people could decide that accepting what has been conveyed to them even though they don’t fully understand it would be the easiest course of action. In consultations, medical practitioners frequently utilize medical jargon, which is well known to be difficult to grasp even for individuals who speak English.

4. How Mental Health Interpreters Work

Medical and mental health interpreters are typically regarded as being on par, and some interpreters serve in both roles. Since the work is more complex than simple translation, it calls for a certain skill set and training.

There are alternatives for healthcare professionals who don’t have access to a mental health translator, such as a telephone interpretation service, however patients typically feel more at ease in person. Patients could be less likely to seek out therapy altogether if translators are not accessible.

Another duty that occasionally arises for mental health interpreters is the position of cultural arbitrator. that in addition to knowing the language, translators must also be familiar with the local culture. By creating a secure environment for patients, mental health interpreters offer a vital service.

5. Advantages of Using a Mental Health Interpreter

Increases Access to Care

Without a doubt, having language access improves the standard of care. Mental health interpreters enhance effective communication, which helps save lives. But it might be even more crucial when it comes to mental wellness.


Patients with mental health issues frequently lack measurable physical signs. This necessitates that they have correct emotional descriptions. This can be challenging to accomplish even in your mother tongue. Just consider how difficult it must be when a language barrier is present!

Patients with poor English proficiency, Deaf or Hard-of-Hearing patients, and others may not be able to receive the necessary care without the aid of mental health interpreting services.

Help Patients Understand Treatments

The foundation of medical ethics is informed consent, which is crucial in cases involving mental health. Hospitalization may be necessary for those who appear to be dangerous to themselves or others. But for patients, it can be a frightening experience. Language difficulties exacerbate these sentiments of helplessness and loneliness.

Patients need to be aware of their medical conditions, procedures, and prescription drugs. They must be given the chance to ask questions and receive clear answers. In order for patients to make wise decisions, mental health interpreters make sure they comprehend their treatment plans.

6. Case Study: Real-world Impacts

As an illustration, consider the following:

At a hospital in Virginia, a Nigerian patient requested assistance. He told the physician that he had the impression that ants were burrowing under his skin. Graduate student diagnosing the doctor felt the Nigerian man had schizophrenia right away.

Fortunately, a doctor who was familiar with Nigerian culture was on duty. Ode Ori was the name she gave to the illness.

Ode Ori is the physical representation of severe distress in Yoruba culture from Nigeria. The man experienced a panic attack rather than schizophrenia. And as everyone is aware, treating anxiety takes a totally different approach than treating schizophrenia. These kinds of misunderstandings can be identified by interpreters who are familiar with the patient’s culture before they develop into serious medical issues.

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7. Conclusion

A particular area of medical interpreting is mental health interpreting. Mental health interpreters need to be familiar with the cultural perspectives of the groups they work with in addition to mental health jargon.

GTE Localize makes it simple to locate highly skilled and knowledgeable interpreters that can help in the languages you want. We also provide a variety of mental health document translation services, such as on-demand telephone interpreting services and video remote interpretation. Contact us right away to go over your interpreting requirements!