The invisibility of informal interpreting in mental health care in South Africa: notes towards a contextual understanding.

Research paper by Leslie L Swartz, Sanja S Kilian

Indexed on: 16 Sep '14Published on: 16 Sep '14Published in: Culture, medicine and psychiatry


Despite South Africa's constitutional commitment to equality, represented by 11 official languages and the promotion of South African Sign Language, many users of the public health system receive treatment from people who cannot speak their language, and there are no formal interpreting services. This is a legacy of service provision from the apartheid era, and interpreting is currently undertaken by nurses, cleaners, security guards, and family members of patients, amongst others. We provide a preliminary outline of proximal and distal issues which may bear upon this situation. Changing understandings of the nature of careers in the health field, international trends in mental health theory and practice toward crude biologism, and ongoing patterns of social exclusion and stigma all contribute not only to a continuing state of compromised linguistic access to mental health care, but also to processes of rendering invisible the actual work of care in the mental health field.