There are several questions that can be addressed when one talks about Islam and mental health. For example, how people’s attitude towards Muslims affect their mental health and how the Muslims own stigmas regarding Islamic law and other religious beliefs influences their opinions about mental health. Thus there are several barriers that the Muslim community encounters on the road to seeking help for mental illnesses. In this article, I attempt to address these questions and the state of mental health conditions of Muslims in different situations.
How do Islamic law and people’s faith influence their stigma towards mental health?
Some experts on Muslim law have expressed that Muslim families may neglect the issue of mental illness because they feel it brings shame on them and their reputation. Islamic law asks Muslims to rely on God to heal them. When suffering from either physical or mental illness they pray to God to make them feel better. It is believed if you are a spiritual and faithful person and pray to God/Allah, he will put you through trials and cure what he deems right. Others may suggest that illnesses are an opportunity to remedy disconnection from Allah or a lack of faith through regular prayer and a sense of self-responsibility.
However, there is a need for increasing awareness and re-understanding of Islamic law. Prophet Muhammad has reported, “down a cure even as he has sent down the disease.” Translating this, health is a gift from God and Muslims must seek treatment and advice for all illnesses (physical and mental) to cherish this gift from Allah.
Having faith in a higher power is beautiful and helps many people but it needs to be channeled and hence combined with proper treatment to reach the root of the illness that plagues a person. God/Allah will always be there to turn to but everyone needs to be able to talk openly about their problems to someone( depending on the severity of the problem) who can help them. People should have a network of friends and family who can support them emotionally and with love.
Lead researcher Dr. Ghazala Mir, of the university's Leeds Institute of Health Sciences, says this is a common concern among Muslims, who are under-referred for mental health treatment.This stigma does involve the idea that maybe if you need treatment, there might be something wrong with your faith identity in the first place.
Habiba a victim of anxiety said, “I live within a big Muslim community and there is hardly any talk about mental illness. It is as if the problem does not exist. In fact, it seems like it should not exist because people are so ashamed of it and that makes me feel ashamed to even have an illness. We need to start talking.” This highlights that the Muslim community at large lives with the stigmas attached to mental health issues and some interpretations of Islamic law discourages them from seeking treatment as well. However, not all Muslims view mental illnesses in this light, al Razi established the first psychiatric ward in Baghdad, Iraq in 705CE. Several other Muslim scholars like him have contributed to the development of psychotherapy.
Several barriers for Muslims in psychotherapy techniques
Even if Muslims overcome the stereotypes and stigma attached to mental illnesses they face a number of difficulties in the process of therapy. Researchers found that many Muslims are hesitant to seek help from the mental health professionals in Western countries due to the differences in their beliefs and lack of understating of the helping professionals about Islamic values in their treatment. Consequently, Muslims might feel uncomfortable in seeking psychiatric help to avoid being in conflict with their religious beliefs. Not only individual therapy but even group therapy as practiced in Western settings often conflicts with a number of Islamic values. Therapists not aware of Islamic customs, festivals, and values may not be able to change medication dosage according to the religious responsibilities of Muslims like Ramadan fasting.
If therapists modified therapeutic procedures to include cultural differences and practices, Muslims would feel more comfortable to talk to a person who understands their core beliefs. Dealing with mental health issues in accordance with their religious beliefs would help patients feel comfortable and secure and help in developing a patient-client relationship. Example, spiritually modified cognitive adaptive techniques such as to count how much God has blessed us and focusing on what we have and not on what we don’t can be used to relieve stress, help in anxiety, to cope with grief, and depression.
How does Islamophobia affect Muslims, their freedom and mental health in countries like India, USA?
Islamophobia can be defined as an irrational belief of adherents of Islam. After 9/11 and increase in terror attacks, one could notice the rise of Islamophobia in Western countries. Islamophobia was further encouraged by the government’s unfair treatment of the Muslim population in the United States. However, 62 percent of the world’s Muslim population lives in Asia in countries like India, Middle East, UK etc and Islamophobia is as prevalent in Asia as much as the West. Muslims who have no part to play in terror attacks, Muslims who have no faith in the ideology of the extremists of their faith find themselves being targeted and answerable for crimes they did not commit.
Kameelah Rashad who runs Muslim Wellness Foundation highlights the kind of mental health issues Muslim students face. She expresses, “The things that happen abroad at the hands of ISIS and Boko Haram and al Shabab -- they do more harm to Muslims because it’s not a reflection of our faith. It’s not a reflection of what we believe. When that small percentage becomes the face [of Islam] it robs us of our own humanity.” She also claims that most of the issues Muslim students face are related to identity and how they do not have the freedom to practice their religion without being called extremists. Muslims who are aware of public stigma about Islamic law may view negative attitudes as legitimate or not legitimate and react with shame, indifference, or righteous anger. Thus, Muslims across the world not only face problems in the form of daily stressors such as studies, work, relationship problems, or death of loved ones but also face problems in the form of lack of security and labels for crimes of others.
The objective of this article was to raise awareness about the mental health issues faced by the Muslim community today. It is not intended to hurt anyone's religious or cultural sentiments.