Dealing with common mental disorders can be very overwhelming especially when your culture stigmatizes it. Muslims deal and cope with personal issues in many different ways, most of them are ineffective and dangerous. Unfortunately, many mentally ill Muslims are not seeking help because of the stigma and that is extremely dangerous.
According to the Muslim Mental Health Journal, “Abu-Ras (2003) found about 70% of Muslims reported shame and 62% felt embarrassment seeking formal mental health services. Khan’s (2006) study involving 459 Muslims in the United States revealed similar gender patterns in stigma and help-seeking. Out of 459 participants, 15.7% of the participants reported a need for counseling while only 11.1% reported ever seeking mental health services.”
I actually dealt with this myself. It all started in the beginning of my freshman year of high school. I was overwhelmed and nervous about how I would fit in with the crowd and if It would be socially acceptable for me to do anything that a normal high-schooler does. Considering my previous school years, I wasn’t too keen on seeing my bullies again. My looks, beliefs, and personality were all the things I hated about myself for a long time due to bullying and constant harassment.
I’ve dealt with Islamophobic threats online and in real-life, I also had my share of issues with low self-esteem, my family and friends made me feel super bad about my chubby face & stomach, it hurts especially as a teenage girl who sees the average white girl as goddesses. All those feelings eventually led to me feeling empty, losing interest in daily activities and constantly overeating. After a couple of weeks, I tried talking to my mother about my feelings and the conversation took a bad turn. She stated that my feelings were invalid and I shouldn’t be feeling this way since I had luxuries that most people don’t have, especially where I’m descended from.
I kind of expected that reaction from my mom since I always heard the constant stigmatizing of mental illness all throughout my life. After a few months of constant sadness, I decided that I was sick of it, I went to one of the counselors at my school. I grew to be fond of her, and she’s also Muslim so I felt even more connected to her and knew she would understand me. I vented to her about everything that I was feeling & she completely understood and gave me moral support. She eventually called my mom and educated her about how mental illness is real, and how my feelings are completely common and valid! It was honestly a dream come true.
We, Muslims need to stop stigmatizing mental illness as a shameful act or sin. It’s very harmful and dangerous to our 1.5 billion and counting Muslim community around the world. We need to do better so we can help save lives of our fellow Ummah.
Photo: Hernanpinera/ Flickr