Inadequate communication with people who have limited English, limits their ability to access important services which they may require. This has a huge impact on the level and quality of treatment they receive when accessing mental health services. Communication in any clinical setting is of the highest importance as this helps you to:

  • Identify what is being experienced by your patient.
  • Develop a therapeutic relationship with your patient.
  • Motivate your patient.
  • Diagnose your patient correctly.
  • Decide an appropriate treatment program with your patient and engage them in this treatment.
  • Understand the cultural concepts which may have an impact upon your patient.

Incorrect treatment can lead to negative outcomes which in turn can prolong a patient’s condition, reduce their quality of life or begin the onset of disability.[1] Inadequate communication can lead to the patient, their family or their carers having a distorted view of:

  • The role of the practitioner.
  • What the service being provided includes.
  • The cause of their illness.
  • The purpose of the treatment they are receiving and the medication they are being prescribed.
  • Any side or long term effects which may be caused from prescribed medication.

With the risk of errors in health services increasing, there is a greater threat of liability for organisations. For these reasons, the medical profession and civil rights advocates have stressed the need for professional medical interpreters in mental health care settings in which patients have limited English skills.[2] As a practitioner this is important in ensuring you always get ‘informed consent’ from the patient before they are treated.

It is vital that patients who have limited English proficiency are given access to an interpreter as all patients have a legal right to be informed about why they have been detained, when their consent is needed and what their rights are.

Ultimately the importance of using an interpreter is to facilitate effective treatment within the mental health sphere and creating equal opportunities for limited or non-English speakers just as you would provide a service for an English speaking patient.

[1] Minas . H. Mental Health Services for Immigrant Communities, Paper presented to the annual meeting of the Federation of NESB Communities Councils of Australia: Victorian Transcultural Psychiatry Unit, 1991.

[2] University of Minnesota, Working with interpreters, 2009, pg 1.

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