Breaking the Mental Health Stigma for British Muslim Youth

Mental health persists as a major issue in the Muslim community, with youth at the forefront. Mental health in our community remains stigmatised, with many unaware of the intensity and scope of this issue. As the Muslim community continues to expand, with the consistent influx of converts and first generation refugees and migrants, it is increasingly necessary to tackle the stigma against mental health. Research has found that mental illness is more pervasive amongst Muslim youth, specifically within refugee diaspora, a reality that we must appreciate when tackling dominant issues within the Muslim youth.

‘Mental health’ as an overarching umbrella term, envelops an extensive range of issues from minor mental health impediments to wholly debilitating illnesses. Mental health problems also double as a catalyst to disaffection and dislocation, as found in research conducted by Dr Sadek Hamid into the different approaches of working with Muslim youth. Furthermore, the heterogeneous character of mental health inhibits spiritual, social and economic emancipation. Despite this, there is an apparent lack of sources that seek to address mental health issues driven by the structural, institutional and social deprivation of Muslim youth. Much of the attention concerns mental health of the adult Muslim population, amalgamating the systemised neglect of British Muslim youth.

The existence of peer-reviewed academic journals, such as the Journal of Muslim Mental Health and information, support groups and advice prominent in the USA coupled with UK based counselling services such as Muslim Youth Helpline, recognise the need for a change in rhetoric within the Muslim community. The Muslim Youth Helpline maintains that much of the issues that Muslim youth wish to seek advice for are no different from their non-Muslim counterpart, yet the former seek culturally and religiously sensitive counsel. Their increasing client base turn to an anonymous helpline for support, due to the lack of guidance targeting sensitive topics within their community. The prominence of mental health issues apparent in these helplines and support groups provide substantive evidence that there is a growing problem within our community, a problem that requires tackling.

We must provide avenues for our youth to relieve, rejuvenate and redirect their minds. We must acknowledge the severity of mental health issues and illnesses through accepting and working in favour of medical health professionals. However, whilst the emphasis should always been on seeking professional medical help, the role that faith leadership plays in alleviating stress and challenging the cultural stigmatisation of mental health issues cannot be understated. Given that there is a pervading need for religiously contextual guidance for British Muslim youth, Imams and Muslims scholars possess the ability and influence to tackle these issues through a shift in rhetoric,the development of their social and counselling skills and an acceptance of their responsibility to be at the forefront of dealing with social issues through spirituality. Only then will the stigmatised nature of mental health transform into a lived space that exculpates our Muslim youth, promoting understanding, support and progression.

By Munibah Qureshi, Policy Researcher. 

This article is part of a series highlighting some of the most pertinent social issues affecting contemporary British Muslim youth and the critical need for faith leaders (male & female) to be at the centre of the conversation, providing contextualised religious guidance. 

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