Therapy won’t work with an interpreter.” 

A recent report by two social justice groups in Baltimore said that children from immigrant families are being denied mental health care because their primary language is not English.

Under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act and Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act, patients are guaranteed free access to an interpreter if their primary  language is not English. Even still, the report said that patients are routinely denied mental health care on the basis of language. 

One patient, a child who had fled armed conflict and persecution, had been diagnosed with a severe behavioral health problem. The family was overwhelmed. They sought help from multiple behavioral health services and heard the same thing: 

“It isn’t a good fit.” 

“We don’t know how to complete the intake for a child who doesn’t speak English.” 

“We can’t start treatment until we hire a bilingual therapist.”

To be absolutely clear, none of the objections above are legitimate obstacles to providing mental health care to limited-English speakers. Any and all language barriers can be overcome with the assistance of a language partner so that every patient has access to the care they need. 

CASE STUDY: Mental Health Interpretation Through the 988 Help Line

Access to mental health care is a fundamental right, regardless of one's linguistic proficiency. In a continent celebrated for its diverse population, North America bears the responsibility to ensure that every resident, regardless of their language, can access high-quality mental health care. 

By acknowledging the issue, reflecting on the sobering statistics, and taking proactive measures, we can establish a system that genuinely represents inclusivity and care for all. It's time to dismantle the language barriers that stand in the way of comprehensive mental health care and create a more equitable, empathetic society.

Numbers Paint an Alarming Picture

North America’s diversity brings with it a profound challenge when it comes to accessing mental health care. Language barriers, often underestimated, are a significant impediment in this critical area.

The statistics when it comes to minority mental health are distressing. 

Over 16% of Hispanic Americans have reported experiencing mental illnesses in the past year, while 18% of Asian-Americans have reported similar symptoms.

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Yet members of these and other minority groups are far less likely to receive the mental health care they need. While 48% of White Americans who required it received care from a mental health provider in the past year, only 31% of Hispanic Americans and 22% of Asian Americans accessed the same care.

Mental Health Relies on Language

Mental health is unique in the sense that, unlike physical ailments, it relies heavily on effective communication. The ability to articulate emotions, describe psychological distress, and share personal experiences is crucial for accurate diagnosis and successful treatment. 

When individuals face language barriers, they may find themselves unable to express their innermost feelings effectively, and this deprivation of communication can be detrimental to their well-being.

Moreover, the stigma attached to mental health issues can be intensified within certain communities, exacerbating the challenges individuals face in seeking help. When these cultural stigmas intersect with language barriers, the result can be profound isolation and reluctance to access mental health support.

Steps to Systemic Improvement

Despite 20% of the U.S. population speaking languages other than English at home, many limited-English speakers do not receive the mental health care they so desperately need. It's important to note that this deficiency isn't due to a lack of resources but often arises from a lack of initiative and awareness within the system.

To bridge the chasm created by language barriers, and to ensure that every individual has equitable access to mental health care, a series of strategic steps should be taken:

  • Professional Interpreters in Healthcare: Inclusion of interpreters, particularly those well-versed in mental health terminology and cultural sensitivity, is vital. They can facilitate effective communication between patients and providers, allowing individuals to freely express themselves and mental health professionals to grasp the nuances of their experiences.
  • Multilingual Resources: The distribution of mental health resources in various languages, including pamphlets, videos, and online content, is essential to ensure a wider reach and accessibility.
  • Cultural Competency Training: Healthcare providers should undergo training to understand and respect cultural differences, especially with regard to mental health perceptions and stigmas.
  • Community Outreach Programs: Collaboration between mental health facilities and community leaders or organizations is crucial. Organizing workshops, seminars, and counseling sessions not only raises awareness but also fosters trust within communities.
  • Inclusive Policies: Healthcare policies need a comprehensive overhaul to prioritize inclusivity. This should encompass insurance coverage specifics and treatment protocols, with diversity at the forefront of decision-making.

LanguageLine Can Help

LanguageLine Solutions is the world’s leading provider of interpretation and translation services. Our solutions play a crucial role in helping healthcare practitioners, including mental health professionals, deliver care to patients who might otherwise face barriers due to language differences. 

Here's how LanguageLine aids in delivering mental health services to limited-English speakers:

  • Over-the-Phone and Video Interpretation: Practitioners can instantly connect with medically trained, professional interpreters in over 240 languages via video or phone. These interpreters are skilled in mental-health terminology. This immediacy ensures that during a mental health session, no crucial information is lost or misunderstood due to language differences.
  • Face-to-Face Interpretation: For situations where in-person interaction is more suitable, LanguageLine provides skilled interpreters who can be present physically to bridge the communication gap, ensuring both the client and the practitioner understand each other perfectly.
  • Telehealth and EHR Integration: LanguageLine’s interpretation services are frequently embedded within the leading telehealth and electronic health record (EHR) systems.
  • Translation Services: LanguageLine also provides translation services for written documents. This ensures that important mental health literature, guidelines, and instructions are accessible to non-English speaking patients in their native languages.

Benefits of working with LanguageLine include:

  • Cultural Competency: Beyond just linguistic interpretation, the interpreters at LanguageLine are trained in cultural nuances. This is particularly vital in mental health settings where understanding cultural backgrounds can influence diagnosis and treatment.
  • Reliability and Confidentiality: Ensuring confidentiality is paramount in mental health settings. LanguageLine interpreters adhere to a strict code of ethics, ensuring patient-practitioner confidentiality isn't compromised. Their services are available 24/7, ensuring that help is always available when needed.
  • Training and Education: LanguageLine offers training programs for healthcare professionals, helping them utilize interpretation services effectively. This can be especially beneficial for mental health professionals who require clear, empathetic communication with their patients.

LanguageLine plays an instrumental role in bridging the linguistic and cultural gap in the healthcare system, ensuring that LEP individuals receive equitable and quality care in mental health settings. We pave the way for a more understanding and culturally competent healthcare environment. 

Mental Health Resources

If you or someone you know is struggling with a mental health or addiction issue, below is a list of resources and services that may help. Contact one of the resources below to speak with a trained counselor or get a referral for help in your area. 

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