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Destigmatizing Mental Health in Muslim American Community

Many in the Muslim community suffer in silence.

“I’m so ungrateful for feeling so sad.”

“It’s just a phase.”

“She is trying to get attention.”

“You are a man. This is a sign of weakness.”

“What will people say if they found out?”

These are the kinds of phrases used by people who avoid their mental health issues and needs. For people with mental health issues, social stigma and discrimination can make their problems worse. It causes them to avoid getting the help they need because of the fear of being stigmatized. This social stigma of having a mental health disorder is even greater and all too familiar for many in the Muslim community suffering in silence.

Muslim Americans often fear being thought of as weak and nontheistic for having a psychological disorder—perhaps more than any other group. In contrast to the individualism that is dominant in Western culture, the Muslim community tends to take a more collectivist approach. However, when it comes to mental health, many suffer in private and confide in close family members only. This avoidance of seeking help from a therapist or psychiatrist can be attributed to stigma, the individuals' sense of shame, and the perceived need to "save face" in the community.

Anthony Shkraba/Pexels
Destigmatizing Mental Health in Muslim American Community
Source: Anthony Shkraba/Pexels

Another problem is that the older generation in the Muslim American community is a proponent of the mental health stigma. Many older members of the community tend to minimize mental health issues by dismissing mental health disorders as “being ungrateful,” “a phase,” or “trying to get attention.” Intergenerational conflict in some Muslim American families is particularly rampant with regard to this issue. Moreover, some religious Muslim Americans believe in surrendering to the divine will. They believe in accepting their fate and staying thankful for what they have, and not feeling disheartened about difficulties in their lives. Also, researchers explain, “Some religious leaders may encourage ... consultation, believing themselves to be better placed than clinicians in the process of ‘diagnosing’ distress and facilitating mental healing. For example, some faith leaders may impute mental illness to a spiritual weakness or insufficient religiosity. Likewise, mental illnesses may be attributed by these leaders to supernatural forces such as the ‘evil eye’ or ‘spirit possession.'"

That said, it is important for those who work in the mental health field to note that the Muslim American community is diverse. For instance, not all Muslim Americans are religious and traditional. Some Muslims are culturally Muslim but secular. Hence, these different groups might have a different perception of mental health issues and the stigma that is attached to them within the larger community.

With all that said, breaking the mental health stigma has to start within the Muslim American community. Those Muslim Americans who work in the mental health field must work together to remove the misconceptions and educate the community and religious leaders and promote mental health.

Health care professionals can work on becoming culturally competent and this will help improve and protect the mental health of minority groups, such as Muslims, in the United States. Here are some steps to overcome mental health disparities and the stigma around mental health in the Muslim American community:

  • Educate Muslim Americans about mental health and offer resources.
  • Collaborate with primary care physicians who identify symptoms and refer patients to mental health care professionals.
  • Recognize cultural barriers and integrate them with appropriate treatments.
  • Encourage family involvement to alleviate the stigma of mental health disorders.
  • Acknowledge the specific challenges of the Muslim community, including being misunderstood and discriminated against.

Discussing mental health is difficult for most people, especially for Muslim Americans. Some in the community have made this a taboo topic, which only intensifies the issue. And if the community continues to avoid talking about mental health issues, the stigma will continue, leaving people who are suffering alone and in silence. Hence, it is important to stay informed for yourself and the people in your life to keep the conversation going and help end the stigma. By destigmatizing mental health, everyone will live a more content and healthy life.