It’s a sad but unfortunate truth: mental health still carries with it a stigma, whether you live inside the U.S. or elsewhere. That means that many people avoid seeking out the help they need, and that makes it extremely challenging for mental health experts to provide that help. Compounding the problem is the existence of language barriers. As our country becomes more and more diverse, it means that there are an increasing number of people who can’t speak English adequately enough to receive the health care they so desperately need. This is particularly true for mental health patients, many of whom – if they are able to overcome the stigma attached to their condition long enough to actually seek treatment – are faced with the almost insurmountable challenge of communicating in a language they don’t speak. It helps, of course, if the mental health care provider is multilingual. But most mental health care professionals have spent a great number of years acquiring the education, training and experience they need to treat patients in this highly specialized field. So to expect them to also be fluent in multiple languages is optimistic at best, which is why interpreters are so vital to the mental health industry.

Taking care of patients with mental health issues is different that providing care for patients with physical ailments. Signs of a physical illness or injury are often quite obvious, whether that involves a fever, a rash, a sprain, a laceration, a broken bone, etc. But mental health issues don’t have any obvious symptoms. The patients may outwardly appear completely normal and healthy, yet they are still suffering. So the patient’s communication with the mental health care professional becomes an absolutely vital part of ensuring that the patient receives the care he or she needs. If the care provider can’t understand the symptoms the patient is describing, it’s virtually impossible to accurately diagnose the patient’s problem. And when a condition can’t be diagnosed, it can’t be treated.

Interpreters thus play a vital role within the mental health industry, starting from the patient’s first contact with a health care provider and continuing on through virtually every phase of their treatment. A qualified, trained interpreter can facilitate communication between the patient and the care provider, and can ensure that the patient fully understands his or her diagnosis and recommended treatment. But not every interpreter is suited for work in this field. The linguist must not only be fluent in the language(s) of the patients, but he or she must also show a great deal of empathy with the patients and their symptoms. An interpreter in the mental health field must also understand and be sensitive to the culture of the patients, which is often even more affected by the stigma of mental health than we are here inside the U.S. And, of course, the interpreter must understand the confidentiality of the doctor-patient relationship and uphold that for every patient in every single professional situation.

If you’re seeking the services of a qualified interpreter to work with patients in a mental health setting, the best place to start your search is with a reputable translation company. They can assess your needs and connect you with a qualified linguist – one who is not only fluent in language, but also possesses the other qualities necessary for an interpreter in this field and, preferably, one with a great deal of experience in either the health care industry or the highly specialized field of mental health.

And if you are a trained linguist interested in embarking in a career in mental health, know that your skills are most definitely needed. It may take time to gain the education, training and experience you need to achieve your professional goals, but the end result – which will be helping patients who so desperately need that assistance – will be worth every minute of the preparation required.