By Amreen Pathan
NB: I originally meant to write about mental health within the BAME communities. However I am not convinced that BAME is a satisfactory way of differentiating people of colour from white people. It sweeps a massive mix of people under one umbrella and does not take into account the sheer volume of differences between all these beautifully distinct communities. What I can do however is focus on some of what I do know: being a Muslim and being Asian.
The Mental Health Foundation mentions:
- People of Indian, Pakistani and African-Caribbean origin showed higher levels of mental wellbeing than other ethnic groups.
- Asian people were less prone to thoughts about suicide and self-harm than white people (though this is somewhat contested here).
A promising illustration but not wholly comprehensive as the foundation acknowledges. This is because ethnic minorities are less likely to report or even be diagnosed with mental health concerns. The data is therefore limited.
The data also suggests however:
- Anxiety and depression is more ubiquitous in south Asian woman (63.5% compared with 28.5% of white women).
- As migrant communities, Asian Muslims are more likely to live in low socio-economic areas and deprived areas.
- Asian Muslims are very likely to be victims of racism, Islamophobia and discrimination.
Barriers to addressing mental health
To know how to overcome mental health concerns within Asian Muslim communities, we must first address the barriers. Without acknowledging their existence, we cannot break them down.
This can be divided into two types: a) label avoidance and b) public stigma. The first refers to the fear of being labelled negatively and therefore rejecting professional help. The second refers to a community’s endorsement of stereotypes, which blocks access to many fields – in this case, mental health care.
The Noble Prophet (pbuh) himself faced stigma. Upon receiving revelation, he was labelled a ‘madman’ because of his claimed communication with Allah (SWT) and Angel Jibra’il (as) (Gabriel).
Unfortunately, in Muslim communities, stigma attaches itself not only to the individual but also to their family, which augments the likelihood of not accessing and/or rejecting help.
Further, participants in a case study here drew attention to the fact that their community members defined acceptable responses to mental health problems and appropriate coping mechanisms.’
In Muslim households, this may be framed as ‘praying’ or ‘seeing a spiritual healer.’ Whilst praying is extremely important for a Muslim’s mental health, this does not imply that appropriate help cannot be sought.
“… it is not to do with intelligence or anything, it is just like, where to go to find help is really hard […]”
The issues here are as follows:
- How to find appropriate care?
- A state of denial: ‘I’m not sick!’
- Understate the problem: ‘Everybody gets stressed; people must have it far worse than me.’
‘…because the NHS [offers] one-size-fits-all… it does not [cater to Muslim’s] conceptual and cultural needs.’
As well as societal pressures, Muslim communities must contend with Islamophobia, discrimination and as many second generation Muslims will tell you, identity issues.
Muslim’s mental health needs are different. This is the implication of the above. The UK however invests just over 5% of its research budget on mental health. You can only imagine how much of that is divided in addressing the needs of minority communities.
There is also the issue of language around mental health. A child who has no knowledge of Victorian England, the social hierarchies contained within it and the impact of industrialisation cannot understand Dicken’s Oliver Twist even if all the complex, lengthy vocabulary is clearly defined for them. Similarly, telling a first generation Muslim-Asian that they suffer from anxiety is futile when they lack the conceptual understanding.
In sum, it is easy to understand why Muslims do not seek professional help considering the cultural ignorance, insensitivity and discrimination they inevitably face.
Overcoming mental health
This of course is not a ‘one size fits all’ solution. There are some suggestions that I have read up and researched keeping my religion (Islam) at the very forefront. I pray they can be of some help for yourself or a loved one suffering with their mental health.
- Anas ibn Malik reported: A man said, “O Messenger of Allah, should I tie my camel and trust in Allah, or should I leave her untied and trust in Allah?” The Prophet, (pbuh), said, “Tie her and trust in Allah.” (At-Tirmidhi)
Whilst Tawakkul al-Allah (trust in God) is absolutely imperative, one must make use of the resources given to us by Allah (SWT). Taking medicine to treat a headache is not incongruous with trusting Allah (SWT). In fact, Islam even encourages Muslims to seek help for spiritual illnesses. Similarly, one should not shy away from seeking counsel for better mental health.
It may fascinate some of us to learn that the first psychiatric hospitals were founded in Baghdad, Cairo and Damascus as early on as the 8th Century. This highlights the pioneering role of Islam when Europeans in the Medieval Period viewed mental illnesses as demon related. Notable Muslim scholars like Ibn Sina rejected such concepts and Al-Razi – a great Islamic Physician – asserted that mental disorders should be treated via drug treatments and psychotherapy.
It is also a partial responsibility of Muslim leaders and scholars to educate their communities about Islam’s stance on mental health to counteract the stigma faced by mentally unwell people.
- There is a clear pressing need for more Muslim individuals to enter the mental health profession. Although this is a process that will take time to dominate, this a long-term solution that will benefit generations of Muslims In-sha-Allah (God willing).
I found this to be a useful article providing information about the different roles, level of education and necessary characteristics for entry into the mental health field.
In addition to this, current Muslim health care professionals must educate themselves further about Islam to internalise the needs of the Muslim community.
Both of the above action points should be seen as foundational steps in the process of developing a much larger and long-term goal.
Ultimately, it is education on all sorts of fronts that can break down the barriers that Asian-Muslims face. This means:
- Creating a positive presence in the media to break stigmas and counter discrimination and Islamophobia
- Educating one’s self specifically about the services and facilities that communities can access.
- Choosing to enter the mental health profession.
- Passing on information and raising awareness about mental health within our own families.
- Muslim scholars and leaders addressing mental health issues openly.
May Allah (SWT) make all of the above actionable and grant success and ease to those who seek out careers in the mental health field for Muslim communities.
#Mental Health #MuslimCommunities #Stigmas #Barriers