Med Humanities 35:13-18 doi:10.1136/jmh.2008.000422
  • Original article

Language, games and the role of interpreters in psychiatric diagnosis: a Wittgensteinian thought experiment

  1. P Thomas,
  2. A Shah,
  3. T Thornton
  1. International School for Communities Rights and Inclusions, University of Central Lancashire, Preston, UK
  1. Professor P Thomas, International School for Communities Rights and Inclusion, University of Central Lancashire, Preston PR1 2HE, UK; PFThomas{at}
  • Accepted 5 December 2008


British society is becoming increasingly culturally and linguistically diverse. This poses a major challenge to mental health services charged with the responsibility to work in ways that respect cultural and linguistic difference. In this paper we investigate the problems of interpretation in the diagnosis of depression using a thought experiment to demonstrate important features of language-games, an idea introduced by Ludwig Wittgenstein in his late work, Philosophical investigations. The thought experiment draws attention to the importance of culture and contexts in understanding the meaning of particular utterances. This has implications not only for how we understand the role of interpreters in clinical settings, and who might best be suited to function in such a role, but more generally it draws attention to the importance of involving members of black minority ethnic (BME) communities in working alongside mainstream mental health services. We conclude that the involvement of BME community development workers inside, alongside and outside statutory services can potentially improve the quality of care for people from BME communities who use these services.


  • Competing interests: None.