Health Care, Mind, Love, Life Stories, Wellness

I’m Muslim – and we struggle with mental illness, too.

And if a woman wears a hijab, she may feel even more judged and not willing to open up honestly about her suffering.

“But you seem so confident!”

“You seem to always come to congregational prayers.”

“Just be positive and put your trust in God – you’ll be fine!”

Yes, my Muslim friends, aunties, and uncles in my community have said these to me.

Mental health and Muslims do not always mix, unfortunately. This is true for religious communities too who believe that a healthy mental outlook comes from a “proper” relationship with God. As a practicing Muslim who loves her faith and finds solace in it, my religious practices were not enough for me to go about my daily routine with depression and anxiety – I needed help from trained mental health professionals.

Indeed, in a time of Islamophobia as the norm and Muslims suffering from mental health disorders, many mental health professionals may tell Muslims to abandon their faith and use only medication (which I am not against) or engage in practices that may be incongruous with a Muslim person’s values. 

What’s more, stigma prevents many Muslims from going to mental health care practitioners because they fear judgment about their faith.

And if a woman wears a hijab, she may feel even more judged and not willing to open up honestly about her suffering and struggles.

As someone who had struggled with my own mental health, I sought professional help while in graduate school from someone who did not share my faith but she was great, nevertheless. I did find myself not saying everything on my mind and instead of explaining things happening in my life from a religious perspective, I used other terminology to explain myself.

Recognizing that having someone to speak with who would not judge me for how I use religion to see the world, I was grateful that I found The Khalil Center based in Chicago, with additional locations in California and New York. They address mental health from trained Muslim mental health professionals who take Islam seriously and use religion as a tool for mental wholeness.

These professionals are psychiatrists, psychologists, and licensed social workers who are trained in cognitive behavioral therapy, counseling, psychiatric evaluations, religious consultations, pre-marital evaluations, and the Islamic religion in all its nuanced interpretation. The Khalil Center also has web therapy services so if you do not reside in any of the physical locations, this is a great option in the age of so many technological options.

As I researched more into mental health wellness with an Islamic perspective, I found valuable learning materials that were connected to an Islamic heritage.

For example, Dr. Malik Badri published a translated primary book in Arabic by a ninth-century Muslim physician, Abū Zayd al-Balkhī’s Sustenance of the Soul: The Cognitive Behavior Therapy of a Ninth Century Physician. This author has insights on human psychopathology as well as diagnoses of psychological ailments including stress, depression, fear and anxiety, phobic and obsessive-compulsive disorders, together with their treatment by cognitive behavior therapy with a reflection on the human relationship with God.

Just take that in for a second – a ninth-century person’s mental health diagnoses is what many 20th-century professionals were suggesting.

In addition to the Khalil Center, the Institute of Muslim Mental Health is also working to destigmatize Muslims from seeking mental health.  The institute publishes a peer-reviewed journal, has a thorough search bar for finding therapists, and has several resources for educating Muslims and professionals on the importance of encouraging and learning about mental health from an Islamic perspective.

The Yaqeen Institute is based out of Texas and has publications not only on Islam and mental health but many other questions that Muslims may have about Islam and the modern world. This website has great informational videos, animations, and published articles, including Islamic spirituality and mental wellbeing, how to be a mindful Muslim with an exercise in meditation and an infographic on mindfulness. 

Muslims are humans like anyone else, and we can struggle with mental health. 

While Muslims’ level of practice to their faith is on a spectrum like other groups, they want to be able to go to a therapist and not be judged since telling a stranger your struggles is about vulnerability. Many Muslim communities are doing an amazing job on recognizing that belief in God and commitment to one’s religion is not enough for a peaceful inner world.

Organizations like the ones listed are being supported by the Muslim community and more of them are opening up. Muslims should also educate other therapists, to the extent possible, with what they need from therapists.

And, hopefully, mental health professionals can learn to be intersectional in their approaches as clients are becoming more diversified with the growing diversity of Americans and mental health struggles that do not discriminate by race or religion.