Department of Health

Suicide - overcoming language barriers for people at risk

Key messages

  • Language and cultural barriers can be a major impairment to the assessment of people at risk of suicide and self-harm.
  • Interpreters are important to ensure that no nuance of meaning or culture is lost.
  • The use of family or friends as interpreters is discouraged to protect consumer privacy.

Language can be a major barrier to the assessment and treatment of people facing a risk of suicide or self-harm.

Assessment and management processes cannot occur without meaningful communication, and the specific personal and cultural challenges associated with suicide cannot be adequately addressed unless they are properly understood.

Use of interpreters

Where a person has a limited grasp of English, a qualified interpreter can be used to ensure a meaning-oriented translation and to avoid errors of omission. An interpreter can help to ensure clarity of speech and choices of phrase, and to provide the clinician with important cultural, social and contextual information that is key to the psychological issues at hand.

Given that people from different cultures may have different views of mental illness, their views of treating the illness and suicidal feelings may also vary. To protect a person’s confidentiality and avoid causing them any shame or embarrassment, the use of family or friends as interpreters is discouraged.

Reviewed 09 March 2022

Health.vic

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