Dr. Aneesah Nadir –
Imam Zaid Shakir of Zaytuna College says, “As Muslims, we often think that our community is beyond many of the everyday problems that others are grappling with. As a result, we fail to develop the resources that can assist Muslims who are struggling with very serious problems. One of these problems relates to mental health. Many Muslims are dealing with serious mental health issues, such as depression, but are left to suffer, untreated, in silence. This situation oftentimes has devastating personal and social consequences.”
The rise of Islamophobia is impacting our mental health. A 2006 research study of 152 Muslim American men and women, who were immigrant Muslims, second-generation Muslims and Muslim converts of diverse ethnic backgrounds, found a significant relationship between perceived religious discrimination and subclinical paranoid ideation in Muslim American men. Our children and youth are also experiencing identity issues, anxiety and bullying related to Islamophobia.
In addition to physical pains those living with depression also experience continual sadness, tearfulness, helplessness. They often feel like they can’t go on and even like they don’t want to live. As a result, some feel so hopeless they think about taking their own life and some actually do. Dr. Mona Amer’s study of 611 Arab adults, 70% of whom were Muslim, found that 50% of the study participants had symptoms of clinical depression, compared to 20% in an average U.S. group.
Many of us are experiencing spouse abuse, child abuse, sexual abuse and elder abuse. In 1993, Sharifa AlKateeb conducted the first national study on the prevalence of physical violence among Muslims in the United States, showing that 10% of Muslims were experiencing physical abuse, a figure that is comparable to national statistics and other faith groups. Living with physical abuse, sexual abuse and emotional abuse has led to post traumatic disorder or PTSD for many of us.
While the birth of child is a happy occasion for most, many of our sisters are living with unresolved postpartum depression. Those around them don’t understand what they are going through or how to help. The loss of a pregnancy, a child, a spouse also leads to unresolved grief and loss.
Even though alcohol and drugs are forbidden in Islam our community members are suffering from the disease of alcoholism and substance abuse as a result of hookah abuse, illegal drugs and misuse of prescription drugs. Many are also living with co-occurring disorders or a combination of mental illness and the use of illegal or prescription drugs to self-medicate.
May is Mental Health Month. We ask: How can we help our community? We must end the stigma so our community members no longer suffer alone and in silence fearing embarrassment. Stigma prevents us from getting help. We must recognize that any one of us can have a mental illness just like any of us can have diabetes, heart disease or cancer. It does not matter how wealthy we are or what ethnic background we come from.
We must realize that our degree of religious practice is not to blame for mental illness. Spiritually related therapies can be helpful. Most also need the therapeutic treatment of mental health professionals. Religious leaders and mental health professionals can and must work together for the mental health of our families and communities.