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: It doesn’t have to be! I think this is extremely relevant to the topic of interpreter self-care. If you feel like interpreting is a lonely profession, that means you have one big item at the top of your self-care to-do list. Fortunately this task is (in my opinion, at least) pretty easy to check off, and it will have a huge positive impact on your mental health: connect with other interpreters.
Some people might want to say, “But Kelly, you’re an in-person interpreter! You don’t even have the chance to be lonely!” Well, I have to admit that at the beginning of my interpreting career, after graduating from my interpretation and translation program in college, going from having a small tight-knit group of like-minded people I’d see constantly to being on my own was lonely. It took me a while to work up to doing interpretation full-time, but by then I was basically on my own and figuring things out myself. The only thing that really dulled the loneliness was interacting with patients and their families, because if you know anything about folks from Central America (the people I predominantly interpret for) they are the sweetest, kindest, and most welcoming people.
But, of course, I can’t really socialize with patients and their families. I’m there to do my job and provide my services to them, not to develop deep, meaningful relationships with them. I’ll be honest, for me interpreting for people is its own kind of deep, meaningful relationship, but it’s fleeting and less on an individual level than a meaningful relationship with a community. At the end of the day, I needed interpreters to talk to, interpreters to develop meaningful relationships with, and interpreters to lean on. Only interpreters are going to understand what I go through as an interpreter and be able to relate to me.
So, I joined some Facebook groups for medical interpreters, and the rest, as they say, is history. I became really active on U.S. Medical Interpreters, and one of their admins approached me saying they loved the content I shared in the group, and asked if I would accept their request to be a moderator. This was only two days after COVID was declared a pandemic, and little did I know that my status in the group would shape the rest of my interpreting career.
No, I’m actually not exaggerating. During the pandemic, social media was on fire (in both the positive and negative sense!) and I became someone people turned to just by the nature of my moderator status. This was actually the reason I started my YouTube channel with practice materials for interpreters who were terrified of losing their skills when work was scarce in the early days of the pandemic. This enabled me to not only partner with Nanyi on InterpreMed, but I firmly believe this played a part in getting me noticed by Americans Against Language Barriers, an organization I now teach with and produce continuing education courses for.
But I think the most impactful outcome of the group for me was connecting with interpreters in my inbox. Facebook messenger for me became this sort of confessional. I had people all over the world reaching out to me, sharing their deep-seated fears, their despair, and their struggles. But the one thing they all had in common and we all shared was our passion– no, our love for interpreting. For serving the communities we do through interpretation. My inbox became (and still is) a way for not only others, but for me, to speak truthfully, authentically, and sometimes explicitly, about the challenges we face, the injustices we see, and during the pandemic, the loss we felt from not being able to live out our dreams to their fullest potential. This was my motivation for creating the Interpreter & Translator Peer Support Group.
I share my story to really highlight just how impactful it can be to connect with your interpreting colleagues. In my travels, I maybe see my local interpreting colleagues once or twice a week in passing in a waiting room or running to my next assignment. Meanwhile I always have at least a few conversations with interpreters in progress on my phone in my pocket. They help me to grow, they help me to stay grounded, they help me to keep my finger on the pulse of the global interpreting world, and they help keep me connected. Sometimes they’re like my cheerleaders when I feel down myself. The amount of positive encouragement I get from our colleagues is uplifting, and it keeps me in high spirits, even with everything going on in the world.
So no, interpreting doesn’t have to be lonely. We’re all out here waiting for you to connect with us! And while I could certainly give you my recommendations of which social networks will get you connected with what types of interpreters, I also firmly believe that we need to stop putting ourselves into boxes and limiting ourselves to people who interpret the same language, the same modality, the same discipline, etc. We all can learn from one another and we all can support one another. Of course, this is different than if you’re looking for terminology resources in your language, for instance, but if you’re looking to feel less lonely and disconnected, you don’t have to find a group of interpreters who speak (or sign!) the same language or interpret for the same discipline.
Why We REALLY Need to Support our Remote Interpreting Colleagues
I feel like this is something that really needs to be put out there when we talk about interpreters, loneliness, and support systems: remote interpreters need us to support them. I could give you endless examples of the in-person interpreter bias present in interpreter training programs, continuing education, news articles, and even interpreter codes of ethics and standards of practice. Many of these biases spill over into borderline or even outright xenophobic sentiments when we talk about remote interpreters outside of the United States. This fosters this sort of pervasive attitude within the language services industry that not only puts remote interpreters down, but actively excludes them. If you think for a second this doesn’t affect our colleagues, you couldn’t be more wrong.
As I mentioned in the previous parts of this series, I did a survey on medical interpreter mental health. When it comes to remote interpreter mental health in the survey, I wish I could say I wasn’t surprised, but nonetheless I am still very saddened by what I see. Here’s what the results say:
- Remote interpreters were far more likely to report fewer coping mechanisms, tools, and strategies to manage their mental health.
- Remote interpreters were likely to provide a significantly low level of agreement with the statement, “I know who to turn to if I have an emotionally challenging medical interpreting experience.”
- Remote interpreters were more likely to report having a decline in mental health in their role as an interpreter.
Can we just be supportive of our colleagues, please? I most often get this question about interpreting being a lonely profession from remote interpreters. In this digital age where we’re all so connected, there really is no excuse for this. These attitudes and biases we carry sew the seeds of division, put up walls, and separate us from one another. But these things hit some of us harder than others, and we need to do our very best to make sure that we aren’t lifting some people up at the expense of others, even inadvertently.
Stay tuned for part 4 in which Kelly talks about lessons from mental health interpreting for interpreter mental health!
(Say that five times fast…)
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 four to this conversation so definitely keep an eye out! Feel free to share this blog post with fellow colleagues. – Miriam