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Toronto: Cultural Interpreters for Mental Health

February 11, 2010

Helping families cope with mental health issues through cultural health interpreters

As a mental health cultural interpreter for the Toronto based Afghani community, Julia Ghani sees her work as a form of bridge building: working with the community to build understanding across cultures, generations, language and traditional stereotypes.

Her work is part of a pilot program called “Adopting Mental Health Services for Newcomer Families” designed to address the mental health needs of the Afghani community in the city of Toronto.  The pilot program is being run by Diversity in Action Scarborough (DIAS) and in partnership with The Psychology Foundation of Canada.

Mental health issues are difficult for all families – but this stress can be further aggravated in certain newcomer cultural communities. For those who may have experienced traumatic events, language barriers can make it even more difficult to describe or contextualize what they are experiencing. Many feel reluctant or unwilling to accept help for what is often considered to be a personal problem, or a private family issue.

To create community support for the program, Diversity In Action, launched an extensive community outreach program in 2009. Newspaper and magazine articles and news features as well as TV and radio ads in the local ethnic press were all part of a strategy to challenge traditional thinking around mental health and highlight the availability of accessible information and services through cultural interpreters.

Unlike technical language translations, Julia assists clients and professional therapists by providing the cultural context of family roles and expectation. She speaks with parents to help them understand the unique stresses that their children are experiencing (and vice versa).  As well, as an ambassador in the community, Julia actively works to help the Afghani community understand that mental health is a medical issue.

The pilot project is now being reviewed as a potential model for the Tamil and Mandarin speaking community in Toronto. That is one more bridge that Julia has helped to build across communities.

Contact the DIAS pilot project, Adopting Mental Health Services for Newcomer Families.

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