This summer I have been working on my research for a paper on refugee health which of course encompasses mental health. At the same time I have been working at an organization that works to make life accessible for people with vision loss. I realized with Ramadan coming up in a week I should write about accessibility to mental health in not only Muslim but religious communities in general.
It can be difficult to get support from parents or guardians to seek out treatment or even an appointment because of the stigma that is attached to having a mental health issue. Stigma here is defined as “the situation of the individual who is disqualified from full social acceptance.” There is definitely a reluctance in religious communities to seek out mental health care though for various reasons. One of which is the assertion that prayer should fix everything. Or that there is not anything wrong in the first place.
To the first I say that is absolutely ridiculous since in Islam we are supposed to seek out help for problems not just through prayer but through the many avenues in our society like doctors. To the second part I am just amazed considering even some Muslim doctors in our communities will say that prayer will fix everything (but not to their non-Muslim patients). To which I wonder what else these doctors are telling community members, prayer will fix. A broken foot? A heart disease?
I am pretty fortunate as the masjid my family goes to has a doctor who holds a health clinic every month on a Saturday to help members of the congregation that may not have insurance or just need advice on a problem before they go to another doctor. That is not the case everywhere though and there is a definite need for community leaders to talk about and help reduce stigma against accessing mental health treatment. Especially because research has found that imams play critical roles in promoting health and spend a significant amount of time providing counseling for congregation members.
Muslim communities are far from homogenous considering the current estimated number of Muslims is around 1.6 billion which is about 23% of our total population. However we are generally perceived as monolithic. So when it comes to seeking care if we get to that point, it is hard to find non-Muslim mental health care providers who have the cultural competency to work with patients in a non-Islamophobic way.
At the same time there are few Muslim mental health care providers and it is difficult for community members to reach out to someone they might feel is a safer option than an outsider. These two issues combined with the fact that various communities especially immigrant communities have very specific ideas about seeking mental health care, such as it is “shameful” makes it harder for those who need care to get it.
Lastly our communities need to have honest discussions about the need to address mental health issues in Muslim spaces as mental health problems can and do affect how we interact with our family and community members. Without support groups in place or available information in Muslim community spaces, we will continue to have negative health outcomes which in turn harm ourselves and our families.
For literature on mental health issues in Muslim communities, the Journal of Muslim Mental Health is a great starting point and I believe that some of this work can definitely be expanded to address religious communities in general.
Hello! I’m Shahar, a Muslim feminist with Sufi influence. I have feelings about everything from social justice and politics to fairy tales and fashion. Mostly I just watch ridiculous amounts of TV and tumblr about media issues and representation.