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The use of language
Saf: Hi, my name is Saf and I’m a member of Jet42.
Akram: My name is Akram, member of Jet42.
Stuart: My name is Stuart. I’m a young person with lived experience and the co-production coordinator for Healthy Teen Minds.
Obi: And my name is Obi, a member of Jet42. In this guide, we’re going to talk you through some of the challenges that young Black men face when trying to or accessing mental health crisis support. We will explore some of the things that young men shared with us during consultations and provide some practical steps to help overcome some of these barriers.
Saf: Language and protective characteristics such as age, gender and disability can be a particularly big barrier for young Black men. Language includes both mother tongue and phrases used. For example, all of the young Black men we spoke with were able to describe mental health crisis, but almost all of them did not use the word crisis. Instead, they spoke about being under pressure or simply being under. They also spoke about their energy being off and not being able to keep it moving. It’s really important for practitioners and services to understand that the language that young Black men use to describe their crisis is often nuanced and doesn’t mirror the words or phrases that practitioners and services use. As mentioned in the introduction section of this guide, young Black men are less likely to access early intervention for help with their mental health. This means that they are often unfamiliar with the formulas, phrases, or terms that are used within practice.
Obi: When working with young Black men, I would encourage you to do your best to listen to the phrases they are using to describe their crisis, and to do your best to adapt the language that you use as a practitioner or within your service to be less institutional, or medical. If a phrase that a young person uses to describe their feelings or experience is new to you, make a note of it and at an appropriate time ask them if they can help you to better understand their experience by explaining it in more detail in their own words.
Saf: It would also be a good idea to begin your interaction with young Black men experiencing crisis by acknowledging that there are words, phrases or jargon that you use as a practitioner or within your service that may be difficult for them to understand or are problematic. Let them know that it is okay for them to question the language that you are using, or to ask you to explain some of the language or phrases that you were using. One of our young men, M, spoke about the importance of language saying, “My mum knew I was struggling but couldn’t even give me anything back. So she sent out for me to go to this kind of service to sort this out. It was just whack. We spoke once, we didn’t relate. I could barely even get what I’d like to get off my chest because the opening wasn’t there.”
Obi: If a young person needs a translator, sometimes they might want their family around them as a translator. However, this might not be the case and it is good practice for your service to have a list of interpreting professionals.
[END OF VIDEO]
This video focuses on a very common barrier to accessing services; language (Rethink Mental illness, 2021), which young Black men we spoke to told us makes accessing crisis support harder or increases hesitancy.
As you have heard, ‘language’ includes both the phrases we use and the mother tongue.
When having conversations with young Black men in crisis, you can explain that there might be phrases or jargon that you use as a practitioner or within your service that we might struggle to understand or are unfamiliar to us. If possible, try to avoid jargon. Emphasise that we can interrupt you to seek further clarification if there is anything that we don’t understand. You can use this as an opportunity to ask us if it is okay for you to politely interrupt us if there are any phrases we use you are not familiar with. This will help break the language barrier between both of us and build our relationship (The Health Foundation, 2016).
We will not always use the word ‘crisis’ to describe how we feel. The young men we spoke to when creating these resources told us that they often use phrases such as ‘under pressure’ or ‘being under’ in place of ‘crisis’. Ask the young person to explain what they mean when colloquial phrases/slang are used to describe their mental health distress and don’t assume that we are not in distress because we are using these terms. Familiarising yourself with the common terms that we use to discuss our mental health will help you to better spot mental health crisis and deliver high-quality care.
Services should have interpreter services that are easily accessible as English might not be a young person’s first language (42nd Street, 2017). However, we also know that some of your colleagues might be able to step in as interpreters, so consider the assets within your team when it comes to language diversity. This will help reduce any delays in access to care for the young person.
Although this video highlighted the impact of language as a common barrier, protected characteristics such as age, gender, sexuality and disability can impact our society experience and add additional complexities and barriers around access to care. We urge you to conduct further research on how these impact each group when they access care. We have linked some resources below to help you start.
There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach, and our experiences are all unique. Understanding the potential barriers we face in health systems will help you better support us when we use your services.
- Rethink Mental illness (2021), Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) mental health (Factsheet), Available: https://www.rethink.org (Retrieved 18th February 2022)
- The Health Foundation (2016), Person-centred care made simple What everyone should know about person-centred care, Available: https://www.health.org.uk , (Retrieved 19th February 2022)
- 42nd Street (2017) Perceptions: Peer research into the needs and perceptions of young black men on mental health and wellbeing, Available: https://manchestercommunitycentral.org (Retrieved 22nd February 2022)
- Centre for Mental Health (2020) Mental health inequalities: factsheet, Available: https://www.centreformentalhealth.org.uk , (Retrieved 22nd February 2022)
- Stonewall (2018) LGBT in Britain, Available:https://www.stonewall.org.uk (Retrieved 22nd February 2022)