April 1, 2021

The Importance of Specialist Mental Health Interpreting

Interpreting in the healthcare sector is much more than simply rendering words into another language. It is about giving a voice to individuals who might be stressed or concerned about an ailment but experience a language barrier; all while making them feel at ease and secure in the process. This is especially true in the mental health field, in particular when it comes to interpreting during sessions, interviews, or appointments.  
As in any other medical field, linguists in mental health are required to know the common terminology, including the names of illnesses, medications, and treatments in order to bridge the linguistic gap between patient and healthcare professional. However, they also need to have expertise that goes beyond the mere words and terms. Working with a specialist mental health interpreter will ensure that those specific skills are used at every appointment to better support the patient-doctor communication and help drive positive outcomes. 
Broader understanding of mental health 
The work of an interpreter in the mental health sector begins early — even before the actual interview or appointment where their services are needed takes place. A specialist linguist will know that there are key details to discuss with the mental health professional to ensure the session goes smoothly. For example, who will be present, what is the objective of the meeting, and what kind of technical language will be used. 
For the session to be successful, the interpreter will need to be familiar with the symptoms of the illnesses or conditions that will be discussed. This is critical not only to give the correct translations of them, but also because they may affect the linguistic capacity of the patient significantly or shape their speech (and behaviour) in a particular way.  
Specialist linguists who have experience in the field and have worked with different patients will be able to recognise these particularities, and have the skills to understand quickly if there are any aspects of the patient’s speech that stand out. This means they will also have a clear idea what would need to be flagged or highlighted as linguistically relevant to the mental health professional once the session is over. 
Knowing the characteristics of the different illnesses can also help the interpreter focus on the patient’s words and relay them to the healthcare professional without being distracted or confused by its idiosyncrasies, helping make the session more productive for all the parties involved. 
Experience beyond linguistics 
Sensitive topics may emerge during any mental health appointment. Another of the benefits of working with an interpreter who specialises in the field is that they are experienced in dealing with this kind of subjects. They know not only the right words to translate the patient’s experience, but also how to maintain a professional distance and avoid getting too personally involved with their discourse. THG Fluently’s mental health interpreters are especially trained in this respect, and receive follow-up support from their wider teams. 
Likewise, when dealing with potentially dangerous patients, specialist linguists have the expertise and skills to anticipate when a patient’s speech (but also physical movements or gestures) could signal the onset of an unsafe situation. As a result, they can make the attending professional aware promptly, so the event is contained and does not escalate. 
Mental health can be a challenging sector for linguists and organisations alike. Having a language services partner that understands the value of working with specialists, and that can connect you with the right professional at the right time is key to ensuring the successful completion of any project in the field. 
At THG Fluently, we’ve been providing language services to the healthcare sector for more than 17 years. In that time, we’ve learned what it takes to give organisations the interpreting support they need to help their mental health patients. So, if you’d like to learn more about how we can support your project by connecting you with specialist linguists, feel free to get in touch.

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