Mental Health 101 for Interpreters

Like any other health condition, we are used to talking about mental health as something that happens to others. It is surprising how we can be perfectly capable of interpreting that

“Nine million Indonesians, or 3.7 percent of the population, suffer from depression. Every hour, someone in Indonesia takes his or her own life. This is an astonishing 3.4 suicides per 100,000 people in Indonesia. Sixteen million people (6 percent) aged 15 and older have displayed symptoms of anxiety or depression [1]”

Or even

“The prevalence of mental health disorders is at least of 8.8% in Japan [2], where 63.9% of people who need it do not seek mental health care due to a low perceived need, [3]”


without stopping for a second to think that we are maybe part of those millions of people who need help.

Of course, these figures were drawn before the pandemic. Remember how it was, a lifetime ago? Back then, we could all think of at least one colleague who definitely suffered from what we call the “diva syndrome” —and doctors call “narcissistic personality disorder (NDP)”—, at least one colleague who would get so nervous before meetings that it would trigger unbearable gastric reflux —caused by an anxiety disorder— and at least one colleague who would show a level of ambition totally unproportionate to the real stakes —which is linked to mental illnesses, including depression and bipolar disorder.[4] Not to mention those of us who insist on always sitting on the same side of the booth, arrange our pens in a particular order, or are especially annoyed by some smells. Or specific headset cushions. Or voices.

However, mental health is a lot more than those pathological cases. In fact, raise your hand if you have not felt fear, anxiety, or sadness or all of them combined at some given point during 2020. We have all been there. This pandemic does not only have an effect on our bodies but also on our minds, which, let’s be honest, were probably a little hobbled even before COVID-19 —we are interpreters after all! We might be afraid to get sick ourselves or to find out our dear ones are infected; we may dread one more semester of homeschooling. No work, but piles of bills. Relationship problems and even domestic abuse. Combine movement restrictions with serious concerns about the future and you have the perfect breeding ground for mental illness.

In times of coronavirus, anxiety is king, in particular for those of us who were a little controlling to start with. The total lack of control over the simplest things in life is the main trigger for this trouble. Anxiety is, in fact, just as common as it is terrible — up to 33.7% of the population are affected by an anxiety disorder during their lifetime.[5] Many who had never felt the likes of it have become intimately acquainted with its manifestations in the past months. I don’t know what’s wrong with me, I am going to die, there is no way out. But you are not going to die. It’s your body telling you there is something there that needs to come out. It is just telling you to do something about it.

Along with the feeling of helplessness, there is something else, the fear of misinterpretation, your own, and that of others. It’s not that bad, I am not really dying. And yet, it does feel like it is the end of the world. Most of us would take a painkiller for a bad toothache and would for sure seek medical advice for a sprain, even if those conditions are not too severe and are most definitely not going to kill us. However, those wise behaviors do not seem to apply to mental health. But worry not, it is not only you. The amount of research on stigma around mental health is just mind-blowing and we are not any closer to getting over it, especially in our part of the world.

So, what is The Solution? If there were an easy way out, I would not be writing this article. All experts seem to highlight the importance of understanding what is happening to us, why is it happening, which more often than not requires professional help —a psychologist or a psychiatrist— to find the switch that triggers us. Many professionals now offer their services over Internet platforms, thus avoiding not only the risk of infection but also the fear of being caught going to the shrink by an acquaintance. However, it is almost as important to surround yourself with people who care and understand you. We may also need medication, and that is ok too. Enough with the shame, enough with the ignorance. We are not our anxiety. Ask yourself what you like, what feels good, and dive into it. Dance to your favorite song, enjoy a long minute of silence in the morning, a massage, a slow walk down that busy street. Even if we do not suffer from anxiety, let’s enjoy it a little. Life is really too short. Let’s be mindful. Always, but even more so now that the world has gone bananas. Let’s ask ourselves loud and clear, “How are you?” and then, “What do you need?”. Let’s be kind to ourselves and those around us. Because kindness is also mental health.

By the way, all the figures given in this article are real. You will find the references below.

by Ana Pleite Moreno

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of AIIC or its regional organizations. 


[2] Demyttenaere, Koen & Bruffaerts, Ronny & Posada-Villa, Jose & Gasquet, Isabelle & Kovess, Viviane & Lépine, Jean-Pierre & Angermeyer, Matthias & Bernert, Sebastian & de Girolamo, Giovanni & Morosini, Pierluigi & Polidori, Gabriella & Kikkawa, Takehiko & Kawakami, Norito & Ono, Yutaka & Takeshima, Tadashi & Uda, Hidenori & Karam, Elie & Fayyad, John & Karam, Aimee & Chatterji, Somnath. (2004). Prevalence, Severity, and Unmet Need for Treatment of Mental Disorders in the World Health Organization World Mental Health Surveys The WHO World Mental Health Survey Consortium JAMA 2004 291 2581 2590 10.1001/jama.291.21.2581 15173149. JAMA: the journal of the American Medical Association. 291. 2581-90. 10.1001/jama.291.21.2581.

[3] Kanehara A, Umeda M, Kawakami N; World Mental Health Japan Survey Group. Barriers to mental health care in Japan: Results from the World Mental Health Japan Survey. Psychiatry Clin Neurosci. 2015;69(9):523-533. doi:10.1111/pcn.12267

[4] Tang‐Smith, E., Johnson, S.L., and Chen, S. (2015), The dominance behavioural system: A multidimensional transdiagnostic approach. Psychol Psychother Theory Res Pract, 88: 394-411. doi:10.1111/papt.12050

[5] Bandelow B, Michaelis S. Epidemiology of anxiety disorders in the 21st century. Dialogues Clin Neurosci. 2015;17(3):327-335.