Miriam Andrade

CMI-Spanish | English<>Spanish Interpretation

Let’s get real about Interpreter Mental Health with Kelly: Part 2 (Self-care)

Kelly is a good friend of mine whom I’ve had conversations with regarding mental health. When I thought of a new blog post and came up with the idea of a post related to mental health I knew she’d be the person to call. Kelly is a certified medical interpreter through both NBCMI and CCHI. She is also the co-founder of the InterpreMed website. I prepared some questions for Kelly to answer in this interview, to which you will find her answers below. I hope you all enjoy our discussion! Make sure to let us know your thoughts in the comments.

Q: As interpreters, what part of the job can affect one’s mental health?

A: We’ve already talked about preparing for and coping with difficult interpreting scenarios, and many (if not all) of the strategies I mentioned are actually ways in which we can practice self-care.  I think people have this tendency to think of self-care in terms of bubble baths, facials, massages, and any number of material things that require us to spend money.  But in all reality, self-care is anything we do “deliberately in order to take care of our mention, emotional, and physical health.”  That definition is one I like to use from a really awesome article on PsychCentral entitled “What Self-Care Is — and What It Isn’t.”

Self-care!  Now for the low-low price of $199.95!  (But seriously, self-care doesn’t have to be expensive…)

In our previous question, I mentioned preparedness as a self-care strategy, and that we can do this by finding out as much as we can about an interpreting assignment beforehand (where possible), as well as conducting a thorough pre-session.  Yes, believe it or not, I like to consider our pre-session a form of self-care!  Too often we get brushed aside or ignored to where we may gloss over or even skip our pre-session, but at the end of the day, this is one of those instances where you have to ask yourself: by caving in to others’ wants and needs, am I ignoring my own?  That’s probably the most difficult aspect of self-care for me, personally.

I mentioned that I had conducted a survey of about 60 medical interpreters about their mental health, and in addition to exploring the stressors they face, I also asked about the strategies and supports they use to cope, so I’d like to share what I found here.  I think it will give us some good insights into what interpreters are already doing for self-care, and then we can expand from there.

Survey participants were asked two questions:

  1. Briefly describe what coping mechanisms, tools, or strategies you HAVE BEEN SUGGESTED OR TAUGHT IN MEDICAL INTERPRETER TRAINING(S) to address your mental health needs as an interpreter.
  2. Briefly describe what coping mechanisms, tools, or strategies YOU USE to address your mental health needs as an interpreter.
Coping Mechanisms, Tools, and Strategies
RankSuggested or Taught in Medical Interpreter TrainingsUsed Personally by Interpreters Surveyed
1Mindfulness practicesHIPAA-Compliant Debriefing
2NoneExercise and/or Stretching
3HIPAA-Compliant DebriefingMedia consumption
4Exercise and/or StretchingMindfulness practices
5Taking breaks or time offConfiding in family/friend
6Rest (Sleep or nap)Social activity
7Healthy diet & hydrationRest (Sleep or nap)
8TherapyGetting out of the house
9“Self-care” or other vague buzz wordsTaking breaks or time off
10Internal processing or journalingTherapy

I’d like to define a few things here before we go on.  These were open-ended responses, so I had to create categories based on what the interpreters who I surveyed responded.  Mindfulness practices include anything like meditation, breathing exercises, or even prayer, but I classified things like yoga under the umbrella of exercise and/or stretching.  HIPAA-compliant debriefing and confiding in family/friends are very similar in nature, but the former is more restrictive in what information is shared, and with whom.  Media consumption can be anything from binging Netflix to reading books, listening to music, or tuning in to a podcast.  I differentiate resting and taking breaks, in that when I refer to resting, I mean this actually involves the act of sleeping, but can be as simple as taking a nap.

You’ll notice two things in the “suggested or taught in medical interpreter trainings” column.  The first is that the second most common strategy interpreters reported learning from medical interpreter trainings was actually none at all.  That was about 14% of respondents!  I personally find this not only shocking, but unacceptable.  Another finding that struck me was that for this question, some participants’ responded with vague buzz words like “self-care,” yet would give wonderfully detailed answers in their free response about strategies they actually employed themselves.  This may be indicative of a trend I’ve seen in some interpreter trainings that encourage interpreters to engage in self-care, but don’t actually give any substantive suggestions for what that actually entails.

All of these things (excluding the responses mentioned in the paragraph above!) are excellent self-care strategies, and the beauty of most of them is that they don’t cost a thing!  However, I’d like to point out something I noticed when looking at both the stressors interpreters face and the self-care strategies they have been taught:

My question is this: how many of the self-care tools and strategies interpreters were taught in column A actively address the top stressors in column B?  It goes without saying that “none” and vague buzz words don’t help.  But do mindfulness practices, for instance, address the issue of people not knowing how to work with medical interpreters, or not listening to us when we try to educate them about how?  They may help us cope in the moment or even afterwards, but to me that’s just putting a band-aid on things.

I mentioned focusing on what you can control when talking about coping mechanisms in our previous question.  I’d like to take that a step further here: part of self-care is believing in ourselves and recognizing that we do have the power to change things.  I think that collectively, as interpreters, we need to start believing in ourselves and our power to shape the world around us.  By no means am I saying that it is our responsibility to right all the wrongs in the world and that that burden rests on our shoulders alone. One of the most profound realizations for me as an interpreter was realizing that my small, seemingly insignificant actions, were adding up, like dropping coins in a piggy bank.  If every single interpreter were to see their power and potential to be an agent of change, take small steps, and speak up, I truly believe we could address the root cause of the majority of the issues in column B.

So, I’m not going to mince words here: self-advocacy is self-care, and self-care doesn’t imply selfish.  In fact, self-advocacy as an interpreter is actually looking out for your colleagues as well.  And while a rising tide lifts all boats, so too do we need to make a conscious effort to lift our colleagues up and support one another.  And I do believe this brings us to our next question… but I think we’ll touch on that next time!

Stay tuned for part 3 in which Kelly answers the question: Is interpreting a lonely profession?

I want to take this time to thank you for reading this blog post and to thank Kelly for taking the time to discuss with us such an important topic. Don’t worry this is just the beginning…there will be a part three to this conversation so definitely keep an eye out! Feel free to share this blog post with fellow colleagues. – Miriam

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