A few days ago I posted a conversation between Muslim women on the issue of Muslim women and mental health. If you haven’t had a chance to watch/listen to it please do.
After watching the conservation I had a few thoughts of my own, on the issue of Muslim women and mental health, that I wanted to share.
In the video a discussion on the issue of spirituality and mental health highlights how religious leaders, as well as many community members, assume mental health issues to be caused by lack of faith. The participants in the discussion very rightly noted that this would not apply to those with clinical depression or psycho-pathologies such as schizophrenia. Clearly, a lack of faith cannot be to blame, and doing so is extremely unhelpful.
However, mental health issues that are not the result of chemical conditions should also not be assumed to be due to lack of faith. Such an assumption is often (usually, even) wrong and can be isolating. And problematic.
My education is in social psychology, so I am very well aware of how central our surroundings and our environments, and everything within them, are as influences in our lives. There are so many experiences, big, small and everything in between, that can result in mental health conditions like depression, PTSD, anxiety, etc. It is humanly impossible for our psyches to not be impacted by what happens around us, to us. Impossible.The social world can be as powerful, controlling, unpredictable, and uncontrollable a force as any physiological or chemical function in our bodies.
That’s why it’s extremely problematic to tell someone who is depressed due to, say, losing their job, or the ending of a relationship, or experiencing violence, that they lack faith. Faith can often help us deal, and indeed can be a wonderful coping tool for those for whom faith is important, but it rarely works alone. Forces outside us are powerful and we need tools to deal with those forces as well. Having faith needs to be complimented by strategies such as counselling, self-care, and, if needed, medication.
And this takes me to my next point. Mental health professionals.
The women in the video mentioned that there is a need for more Muslim mental health professionals. Absolutely! I couldn’t agree more. It’s so important to have a counsellor/therapist who understands our religious background without us having to explain it to them. It’s so helpful to speak with someone who understands the subtleties, the nuances, the understandings and worldviews that we, as Muslims, take for granted because they are so second-nature to us.
However, these counsellors/therapists also need to be non-judgmental and not necessarily approach each interaction with a Muslim client from a religious perspective. I suspect that trained counsellors/therapists would be better at this than, say, Imams who provide counselling. It can be difficult to open up and if we suspect that our Muslim counsellor/therapist may judge us for drinking, having sex, etc., than we won’t be able to get the help we need. As important as it is for our counsellors/therapists to be able to understand our background without us having to spend multiple sessions explaining cultural/religious details, it’s also important that those same understandings not be used to shame us or isolate us further.
The discussion on Muslim women and mental health is just beginning. I know it will continue and I’ll be following.