Like many common problems among all groups, shame is often directed at a person’s mental problems. Today, mental health is still often relegated to faith-related concerns or dismissed as a minor issue that lacks the serious attention it deserves in many cultural and religious contexts. In our Muslim community, this shame is wrongly directed at a person’s religious practices. Elders, parents, relatives or even other students may say things that diminish how we are as Muslims just because we are depressed or anxious. I have heard and read comments that say, “You just need to pray more.” or “It’s not real. You are being controlled by the devil.”
It makes us question our faith and can even demotivate Muslims in their religious pursuits. Am I praying enough? Do I need to read more from the Quran? Am I not doing enough? While belief in our faith and the power of Allah is important, these comments only devalue the reality of mental illness. This means that mental illness is real. To emphasize the importance of acknowledging the reality of mental illness, the Muslim Mental Health Organization seeks to dispel misconceptions that mental health is exclusively spiritual. In addition, they aim to facilitate easier access to mental health resources and education.
Our religious leader, specifically the imam of the Nueces Mosque, was eager to help us in our initiative. In fact, he has shown his support for mental health from the start of his welcome. By offering office hours to Muslims in Austin, various students opened up any related mental health issues. Although our imam and community at Nueces Mosque offer a strong social support system to help Muslim students struggling with their mental health, there is only so much a spiritual leader can do. Muslims need to be given more medical/psychological support.
So this is a gap where UT could implement resources for Muslims struggling with their mental health. Having health professionals such as licensed psychologists, psychiatrists, and therapists who are faith-based and able to connect with students culturally and religiously is vital to getting students the help they need and ameliorating cultural relativism. Although therapy is known to have the value of not implementing any cultural, religious, and overall diverse biases, many are more apt to open up about their issues when they can reflect with a provided therapist.
As students, there are daily stressors like being academically burned out. However, there are other ethnic, racial, and cultural stressors that do not apply to each individual student. For example, an immigrant student may suffer from academic burnout while also having doubts about maintaining their student visa. This student may not think they are being heard when the only available therapists are all US citizens. Same with religion.
Muslims have certain values and morals embedded in their daily lives that cannot be perceived by a therapist of another religion. Having a person who shares similar views as you can calm and validate mental health concerns and feelings. With Muslim therapists available to our students, they can begin to truly talk about and overcome issues that only Muslims can understand and reflect upon. It is vital that there are additional outlets and resources to support Muslim students and students from other cultural or religious minorities in addressing their mental health needs.
JazakAllah Khayran (May Allah reward you with goodness),
Nur Sarah Hizam is a preschool psychologist and president of the Muslim Mental Health Organization.
#Bridging #Belief #Knowledge #Mental #Health