Real-Time Translation Headphones Fill Mental Health Gaps

WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – Technology is helping to bridge a language gap in mental health care. If a patient and a mental health care provider don’t speak the same language, they can put on special headphones that translate one language into another.

The headset can translate about 40 different languages. As you speak, it picks up what the other person has said and puts it in your native language.

The Mental Health Association of South-Central Kansas came up with the idea for its child support delinquent father diversion program. Eric Litwiller, director of development and communications, said staff realized that multilingual services were needed for fathers entering the program.

After donating $2,000, Litwiller said the group now has 10 sets of these headset translators.

It is managed through an app and can have up to four people using a translator at the same time.

“We realized very quickly that we could use it for outpatient counseling,” Litwiller said. “We could use that in case management. We could use it in our residential care division, and there was a lot of need. »

Litwiller said it was difficult to find staff to fill mental health provider roles, let alone speak multiple languages.

“We know that statistically somewhere in the neighborhood of 70,000 people in Wichita live in households where a language other than English is spoken primarily at home,” he said. “That doesn’t mean they don’t know English, but maybe it’s like they know how to ask where the toilet is or something and they can’t convey the depth and the nuance of a mental health situation in the language they are not as comfortable speaking.

He said it helps fill the gap in services.

“Chances are that those 70,000 people won’t even make an effort to find mental health care because they know they can’t properly convey their mental health needs in English, and they are not convinced that anyone can offer an alternative,” he said. noted. “We are now able to offer this alternative and obviously our hope is that some of those 70,000 people will raise their hands and say, ‘Hey that’s fantastic, now we can finally get the help we need’ , and our goal of course is always to make mental health care accessible to everyone who needs it.

Litwiller said about 100,000 people in a city the size of Wichita have a diagnosable mental health condition in any given year. However, he said only 40,000 of those people seek and receive treatment, meaning 60,000 people are untreated.

He said headphones remove one of the barriers for people looking for solutions.

“We have already eliminated the cost barrier in almost all of our programs, and we have eliminated many geographic issues by having multiple facilities in the Wichita area, and now, as I said, we have eliminated the barrier of language. hopefully too,” he said.