Interpreting in the Mental Health setting – what’s it really like?

Interpreting for the NHS – what a broad term. For a linguist who has recently obtained their Level 3 qualification, it may not seem that way. Maybe they’ve got some telephone interpreting experience already, having helped GPs during routine appointments (Sore throat? High temperature? Here you are – a week’s course of Amoxicillin), or maybe they’ve been connected to a pre-op assessment (simple questionnaire, interpret the consent form, done and dusted).

IT’S A DODDLE, OR IS IT?
The newly qualified linguist can understandably then think – I’m now qualified to do this work face to face, it’s a doddle. Not quite, as it turns out. Or, possibly so, until the first assignment at a mental health institution is assigned.

I WAS ANXIOUS
Personally, I remember the feeling of trepidation and anxiety very clearly. It’s not that I felt ‘unprepared’ or ‘underqualified’. I had plenty of hours of experience in interpreting under my belt, including in settings like courts and police stations, so that wasn’t the cause of the butterflies in my belly.

SO FAR, SO GOOD?!?
Rather, all I could picture were scenes from One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest. Having never stepped foot in a mental health hospital, I had absolutely no idea what to expect. I was excited and curious,  worried and alert – all at the same time. Imagine my surprise when I drove up to an ungated complex opposite a nice residential development. Not a spiked metal gate in sight. I parked up with a sense of relief, found my (rather tiny) building, rang the bell, got buzzed in – ‘so far, so good’, I told myself.

NEXT THING, PANIC ALARM!!
Next thing I know, I am asked to stash my belongings in a locker, keeping nothing but one pen and my notebook with me, and I get allocated a PANIC ALARM (which immediately caused a rush of PANIC and ALARM to flow right the way through me). The serene surroundings had lulled me into a false sense of security, and from that point it only got worse. Checking through peepholes before entering a small interview room with bolted-on furniture to make sure it was safe, being advised to stay there and lock myself in while I was unaccompanied by a professional, being told to keep my panic alarm in my hand at all times – and throughout all this, I was expected to be composed and interpret for an individual when I initially had NO IDEA what they were being sectioned for, all the while trying to hide the worry in my eyes.

I WAS UNDER-PREPARED
So, actually, it’s fair to say I WAS underprepared. Not in the sense of being under-qualified, or lacking terminology. I simply had no clue about the world I was stepping into. You may not either…

Luckily for current learners and recently qualified Level 3 interpreters (as well as for Level 6 interpreters who are looking to broaden their working areas due to the Covid19 restrictions), no one else needs to find themselves in this situation again.

WOULD YOU LIKE AN INSIGHT INTO MENTAL HEALTH INTERPRETING?
Thanks to our lovely, highly experienced and Level 6 qualified interpreter Sobrina Solomon, we have been able to create a MENTAL HEALTH webinar that provides viewers with a fantastic insight into the different types of treatments, places assignments are conducted, and most importantly WHAT TO EXPECT so you are prepared for helping customers in these settings. The webinar also includes an extensive glossary of key terms, patient paperwork interpreters are likely to come across in the mental health setting, and the transcript of the recording.

I WOULD HAVE LOVED TO HAVE THIS..
Personally, it would have been immensely helpful for me to have had access to such an in-depth source of knowledge before I took on my first Mental Health assignment. As it was, I was taken by surprise and knocked off my stride – not a situation you wish to find yourself in, least of all in as potentially volatile environment as a Mental Health setting. Don’t take the risk, further your CPD and download the webinar for yourself. You won’t be disappointed.

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