It has been quite a month. A month since a microscopic force turned our worlds upside down. Thanks to Zoom meetups, memes, and attempting to homeschool four kids, I am relatively stable emotionally. But there are moments the emotions start to overflow and I get overwhelmed with anxious thoughts or become overcome with grief. I know I’m not the only one. Besides being mental health professionals, we have other roles too, as parents, children, in-laws, siblings and friends. And with these various roles come a plethora of responsibilities. Sometimes it feels like we have to hold it together to keep everyone else from falling apart. And so, I wanted to check in with YOU, my fellow healers — when was the last time someone asked, “how are you doing today?”
Stigma surrounding mental health is something that every community deals with, even in this current day and age. These stigmas are even more pronounced in traditional religious communities where mental illness gets chalked up to supernatural entities. As a result, many individuals in Muslim communities, especially the youth, do not get the attention they need in order to properly and safely tackle mental health issues. Two issues that are relevant in the lives of many Muslim youth today are self-harm and substance abuse. These two issues, already a serious global health and medical problem affecting people of many backgrounds, are highly stigmatized within Muslim populations. This leads to a lack of self-reporting and subsequently, a lack of treatment for those harming themselves physically or through repeated drug use.
There is a lack of education and available resources for addressing sexuality with young Muslims in an age-appropriate manner and through an Islamic lens. This becomes worrisome when students are opted out of sex-education classes at school with no alternative education at home or in Islamic institutions. Muslim parents are not fully equipped to have the ‘birds and the bees’ talk with their children and this becomes problematic when curiosity outside the classroom leads to the dark web.
As Muslim clinicians, advocating for the basic human rights of the LGBTQ community is a step toward social justice for one of many vulnerable populations. The clinical consequences of neglecting to support LGBT youth and individuals is staggering, including risk of suicide, other mental illness, substance abuse, and ongoing trauma from discrimination.
Since the publication of The Family and Youth Institute (FYI) Suicide Prevention and Intervention Resources in September of 2017, over 6000 people have accessed the Suicide Prevention and Intervention Resources on the website and almost 25,000 have accessed them through social media outreach. Mosques and community centers are starting to address suicide and mental health issues in programming and Friday sermons. As Sheikh Yaser Birjas mentioned in a Friday sermon this past September, “We live in one society, we are not immune. Cultural shame leads people to feel isolated. There is no shame in seeking help. It is obligatory if you need help or know someone who does that you should seek it [professional help].”