According to figures recently published, the percentage of mental health service workers who can speak Welsh is very low, with the percentage in some health boards as low as 1.9%.
During a discussion at the National Eisteddfod, the Welsh Language Commissioner, Meri Huws, said that the situation is 'unacceptable, second rate and dangerous'. Former mental health patients also shared their experiences of trying to discuss their fears and darkest thoughts in a second language.
Meri Huws said, “As you can’t see mental health issues, you have to speak to convey and describe your darkest and most personal feelings and thoughts – and trying to do so in a second language causes additional worry and stress that a vulnerable patient doesn’t need.”
The discussion at the Eisteddfod was triggered by the recent launch of the meddwl.org website, which sets out to address the lack of support to Welsh speakers suffering from mental health conditions. The website is a hub for all the information and support available in Welsh and includes a section where people can share their experiences of mental illness.
Alaw Griffiths is supportive of the website and was a speaker at the event in the Eisteddfod. She said, "I suffered from postnatal depression and was offered talking therapy through the medium of English. At that point, I didn’t have the energy to ask for services in Welsh.”
"And I think this is true for the majority of mental health patients – all they want to do is to get better, whatever the language of the treatment. If I had the energy to demand services through the medium of Welsh, waiting a long time for treatment, because of the lack of providers, could have been very dangerous.
“Patients are not in the mental state to become campaigners, and this is why the support of people like the Welsh Language Commissioner is so valuable.”
The Welsh Language Commissioner will now urge the Government to introduce regulations to the health sector which will enable her to place Welsh language standards on organisations, which will lead to an improvement when planning the workforce and ensuring that equal services are being offered through the medium of Welsh.
While closing the discussion, Meri Huws said "I have a role of influencing the people who plan the health service and policy in Wales, and the three message I want them to hear is that expecting the patient to press for a Welsh language service is unacceptable; that a service provided in a second language is a second-rate service and that expecting the patient to wait longer for a service through the medium of Welsh can be dangerous."
Notes to the Editor
Information source: Freedom of Information request by Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg December 2016 asking about the percentage of staff in mental health services who could speak Welsh
Betsi Cadwalader University Health Board 30%
Hywel Dda University Health Board 17%
Cardiff and Vale University Health Board 5%
Powys Teaching Health Board 4%
Cwm Taf University Health Board 3%
Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University Health Board 2%
Aneurin Bevan University Health Board 1.9%