Johns Hopkin Medicines reported that 26% or 1 in 4 Americans aged 18 and above are diagnosed with mental illness, while 9.5% of Americans will experience a depressive episode once a year.
People have been more open to talking about mental health in recent years. However, many immigrants struggle to access healthcare due to language barriers.
If you want to know more about the situation of Limited English Proficiency (LEP) patients suffering from mental illnesses while struggling with language barriers that have hampered their mental health care and why medical interpretation is crucial, then keep on reading!
How Does Language Barriers Affect Mental Health Care?
At some point in time, everyone has undergone some form of anxiety and minor depressive episodes. However, it’s a lifelong struggle for many, which requires them to make time for self-care and have frequent visits to mental health care professionals.
For those struggling with language barriers, it can be frustrating because they can’t effectively communicate to healthcare providers about their situation, which intensifies the patient’s feeling of isolation. This issue of language barriers is not only limited to mental health.
The WebMD reported that 25 million Spanish speakers in the US receive 35% to 42% less healthcare than their English-speaking counterparts. Many medical professionals can’t speak Spanish or another language, and usually, medical insurances don’t cover medical interpretation.
In an interview with David Himmelstein, MD., a physician at Cambridge Health Alliance, he stated that the Hispanic community was most affected by the pandemic, especially those considered Limited English Proficiency (LEP). He said that language barriers had been a long-time problem within the healthcare industry, and this failure has been intensified because of Covid-19.
From this information, it’s not much of a stretch to consider that being LEP could profoundly affect one’s access to mental health care. Psychiatry Online published an article wherein it evaluated eighteen studies from the US, Australia, Canada, and the Netherlands and concluded that limited proficiency in a society’s dominant language was closely linked “to underutilization of psychiatric services.”
Effective communication between healthcare professionals and patients is crucial in one’s treatment. For those dealing with lifelong mental illness, trusting their mental health care providers is essential as they will need to be open to trying out coping methods.
But the problem of language barriers is that it can be difficult to develop trust. Because how can you trust someone when both of you don’t understand each other?
Medical Interpretation’s Role in Bridging Mental Wellness to Non-English Speakers
In a blog article written by Tomedes Translation Company, they explained that translators working under medical interpretation require accuracy and cultural awareness when explaining medical terminologies to patients. Medical interpreting practitioners must comply with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and other credentials before working in the field.
For these reasons mentioned above, medical interpreting has become vital in the healthcare industry to overcome the challenges of language barriers. Interpreters act as mediators between health professionals and patients. If they fail to understand cultural nuances, it could result in patients feeling insulted or, worse, unwilling to cooperate.
For example, the word “tragar” means “swallow” in Guatemalan Spanish, but it can mean an insult for Mexican Spanish speakers. If the medical interpreter and health care provider fails to gain the patient’s trust, they won’t continue to seek out medical treatment and psychotherapy later on.
It’s problematic because, for some minority groups, mental illness and health care are a stigma. An example of this is Asian Americans, who are three times less likely to seek out mental health care due to fear of disability, cultural values and expectations, and mental illnesses as a taboo, which is why it can be challenging for medical providers to establish trust.
Medical Interpreting in Psychotherapy for a Bicultural and Bilingual Approach
Due to how integral one’s culture and language are in treating mental illness, traditional approaches in mental health aren’t enough. For this very reason, some mental health providers have taken steps in having medical interpretation an active role in their clinics.
In a study conducted on bilingual and bicultural psychiatric clinics, the medical providers were trained in accommodating cultural and linguistic differences. The interpreters and medical providers worked together to develop strategies and ways to make the communication not one-sided (interpreter-patient) but have the medical practitioner, interpreter, and patient on the same page. It showed that patients felt comfortable opening up sensitive information through this approach without feeling ashamed or offensive.
Tips When Seeking Out Medical Interpretation for Mental Health Care
It will take some time before psychiatric clinics implement a bicultural and bilingual approach. For the time being, hiring medical interpretation will most likely be your primary way of getting psychotherapy for your LEP family member, friend, or patient.
I have listed some tips on how you can work better with a medical interpreter:
- Seek out professional interpreters that are accredited and trained in the medical field.
- With medical interpreting, you will need to speak clearly and be specific, especially if you are using the phone.
- You will need to pause now and then so that the interpreter can keep up with you.
- If you don’t understand anything, you will need to clarify it with the interpreter. Don’t be shy, as they will most likely be more than willing to help.
- Because of the pandemic, many interpreters have switched to online interpretation, so make sure that the internet connection is up and running.
Mental illness is an invisible disease, and everyone at some point in their life has experienced it. That’s why regardless of one’s cultural and linguistic background, everyone should be able to receive medical treatment. Through medical interpretation playing an active role in the psychotherapy of LEP patients, it encourages them to continue treatments and improve their mental state.