Mental Health & Stigma in the Muslim Community

Mental Health related problems are an ever present in the modern world and the Muslim Community is not immune from them. In addition to the silent nature of the illness there is still an unnecessary stigma attached to mental health problems.
Health is considered to be a special favour by God . The Prophet Muhammad is reported to have said: “The one who is physically healthy, safe in his community and is sufficiently nurtured will possess the whole world.” [Tirmidhi] In addition to avoiding unhealthy diet, Islam encourages physical and mental fitness. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said “a strong believer was better than a weak believer” [Muslim]. He was referring to being strong in faith and character but also indicating mental and physical strength. The daily performance of five prayers is in itself a form of mental rest.
Mental health problems are on the rise amongst the British Muslim community. There could be many reasons for mental stress and depression. These could range from experiencing identity crisis, financial difficulties, physical illness, disputes with family members, friends and colleagues, education related issues, unemployment, crime and youth offending, social care and housing.

There is still an unnecessary stigma attached to mental health problems. The stigma not only attaches itself to the individual who is experiencing mental health issues, but also attaches itself to the family. The belief that mental problems are attributed to weak personality, spirit possession and the evil eye is prevalent in many non-Western cultures. This may encourage individuals and families to avoid seeking help for their psychological problems for fear that they will shame their family or that they are considered as being weak.

The cultural normative beliefs which may be mis-labelled or unidentified due to cultural insensitivity also need to be addressed, particularly insofar as such mislabelling may lead to both the unnecessary stigmatization of those who, in fact, do not have psychiatric problems, and the failure to help individuals who do need it.

Suffering in silence or living in the vain hope that the illness will go away is contrary to the teachings of Islam. It is important to have trust, faith and hope in God and find peace through mediation and practising of the religion. But it is equally important to preserve mental well-being by seeking appropriate medical treatment. The Prophet Muhammad said to one of his companions, “tie up your camel and then trust in God” [Tirmidhi] that it will not run away, meaning adopt the means to achive peace of mind.

Mosques and Imams are neither responsible for providing medical treatment or therapeutic help nor establishing preventive measures. However, mosques can lead the way in this regard by addressing ‘sensitive’ issues, such as mental stress, depression and other mental health problems and provide spiritual and practical guidance in this regard. Practical training is also required in certain quarters of the Muslim community to help them use adversities, failures, wrong decisions etc. constructively and turn those negatives into positives. This will help us overcome challenges and strengthen our faith.

Culturally responsive services and nontraditional therapeutic interventions that may help overcome barriers to mental health help-seeking behaviors must also be considered and, if necessary, applied.

by Qari Muhammad Asim
Imam, Leeds Makkah Masjid

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