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Impact of hate crimes on mental health

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In the UK the rates of depression and suicide are on the rise, with the last known statistic suggesting 1 in 4 adults experience a diagnosed mental health issue. The statistics suggest that 1 in 10 children and young people have a mental health problem including depression, anxiety and conduct disorder, with 70% of children and young people not having had an appropriate intervention at a sufficiently early age. This is worrying. What is more worrying is the constraints and challenges faced when attempting to access mental health services.

Having spent a decade working in the mental health field with children, young people and adults I have heard one too many narratives of how our community struggles to overcome the barriers and challenges which prevent people from accessing statutory mental health services. And for those who access services, the challenges they face are numerous.

Following the brutal austerity measures and financial crises here in the UK, as well as an increase in racist and Islamophobic hate crimes in a post Brexit society I question if we are experiencing further mental health distress. How does race intersect with the crisis people of colour experience at being disproportionately affected and diagnosed with the label of a mental health problem?

In July, several colleagues and I went to the streets of London and took part in a Black Lives Matter protest. Many of us were and still are outraged at the racial injustices towards our brothers and sisters. During the protest I felt at home with many of my black brothers and sisters and it reminded me of some of my driving forces. One of which is knowing that our mental health system has many flaws. More often than not, members of our community fall through the cracks or do not receive appropriate support. One way we have tried to tackle this issue is with the rise of grassroots community organisations.

With an awareness that our National Health Service continues to experience cuts, and staff are continually stretched I remain optimistic, although some might call me disillusioned. When we compare our mental health system with America for example, I consider the benefits of receiving therapy on the NHS. Many of my clients have often come from a lower socio-economic background which has meant that they would not be able to access therapeutic services if it was not for the NHS.

That said, people of colour face many challenges in accessing appropriate mental health support. We need a mental health system that acknowledges different knowledge systems and ontologies in order to better meet the needs of these communities. I believe that this can be achieved by inciting structural change within the systems which at times perpetuate the disparity of mental health care our cultural groups receive.

I have been fortunate to meet several psychologists and psychotherapists employed within the NHS tackling some of these concerns and encouraging a shift in white Western paradigms that are not always functional for people of colour. As well as working in the NHS, I also engage in independent work and through this avenue I am passionate for us to build safe spaces where we can have open and honest discussions about the difficulties and distress we experience as people of colour in Luton and Birmingham. If you are interested in self-care and taking care of your mental health please get in touch (author contact details below).

 

About the author

Dr Amirah Iqbal is a womanist, an advocate for equality, a counselling psychologist, a writer and an activist. She has worked with many disenfranchised groups in Birmingham, and more recently Bedfordshire, notably Black (African, Caribbean and Asian) communities. In her spare time she enjoys reading, travelling, painting (the key word being abstract), exploring, writing, meditation and prayer. She can be found on Twitter and Facebook.

Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website.

Image credit:  Jon Grainger

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Jamilla’s tips on dealing with anxiety around exam time (Part 2)

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Read Part 1 here.

In addition to depression, I was diagnosed with anxiety, which tends to worsen during exams. Even though I take medication for depression and anxiety, I still experience panic attacks before, during and after exams. I wanted to share with you a few things that help me get through exams without letting my depression and anxiety overwhelm me.
1. If, like me, you don’t really get nervous until right before the exam, then consider waking up as late as you possibly can (whilst still making it in time to the exam of course). This is because waking up hours beforehand will give you more time to stress yourself out. If you’re unoccupied, it gives your mind a chance to wander, to think bad thoughts or just play up your anxieties.
2. Make dua, lots of dua. When I don’t know what to do or if I’m scared and just need my mind to stop from wandering, I recite any dua or Surah that I can think of. The idea is to try something that helps you feel calm.
3. Don’t sit still. Go for a walk, pace up and down or even just move your legs up and down. I always find that movements distract me from my anxiety.

 

About the author: Jamilla recently graduated with a degree in Arabic and Middle Eastern Studies and is VP of the Islamic Society at the University of Exeter. Follow her on Twitter@JamillaTweets.

Image credit: Photo by PracticalCures.com.
Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website.


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Jamilla’s story of dealing with Depression and Anxiety (Part 1)

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If you’ve met me, just like everyone else does, you wouldn’t expect me to be dealing with a mental illness, especially of this severity. I’m in my final year of university, expected to graduate with a 2:1 (Inshallah), VP of a society and always up for hanging out with my friends or getting involved in extracurricular activities. When people discover that I have depression, and that I’m on strong medication to help me with it, they act shocked, almost as though they think it’s not as bad as I’m making it out to be.

It is a daily struggle, from waking up each morning to completing my university tasks as well as my basic duties as a Muslim, all the while dealing with sporadic suicidal thoughts. And that’s the reason I want this series of posts to be able to reach out to those who are going through the same or similar things. For those who have been told their mental health is caused of lack of imaan (faith), or that it is taboo to talk about it.

Depression, anxiety and all other mental health issues are real illnesses, ones that need to be dealt with appropriately, and ones that require support which we, in Muslim communities, have not really acknowledged. Sometimes, people don’t understand why we’re finding it hard to pray, or fast, or read Qu’ran. I want this blog to help myself and you, not only to deal with your mental health, and for you to know that you’re not alone, but to increase our faith in Allah slowly, so that step by step we can build ourselves back up. Inshallah.

Whilst depression symptoms can vary from person to person (I, for example have depression and anxiety, so I won’t have the exact symptoms as someone with only depression or only anxiety), there is lots of misunderstanding surrounding depression. I hope to clear that up from my own experience.

1. There is often no direct cause. Whilst someone can have many triggers, for example, with anxiety it can often be triggered by loud noises or being around too many people, there isn’t one thing that causes it all. It’s often not one thing that can be the reason for depression, but a series of things that build up over time. For me, symptoms of depression and anxiety have been building up over a few years, and it was only 6 months ago (when I went through a week of not being able to eat or sleep) that I chose to get help.
2. Depression and Sadness are not the same thing. “That’s so depressing”, “That’s made me so depressed”. We’re all guilty of using these expressions wrongly – I know I am, but depression is so much more than one thing making you sad. Depression is not a mood that you can simply “snap out of”, it comprises of good days and bad days, some days you might feel totally fine, other days you might not want to leave the house, but these last over long periods of time.

3. Depression can be easy to hide, so just because someone looks fine, doesn’t mean their depression isn’t bad. When I tell people I have depression they are often surprised. This is because I am usually walking around with a big smile on my face, not looking like anything is wrong. Just because someone is smiling doesn’t make their depression any less valid; you’d be surprised at how well people can hide these things.

4. Depression isn’t a weakness of imaan. Depression can stop someone from fulfilling basic Islamic duties, but this isn’t because a person doesn’t have faith or because there is something wrong with their imaan, it’s because maybe they are finding it hard enough to wake up in the morning, or just keep themselves alive. Maybe they don’t want to pray because they feel so guilty that they’ve let their illness get the better of them, even though it is not their own fault. Depression is an illness like any other, and it needs to be seen as such from the Muslim community.

The best description of depression I have seen comes from a Reddit post which said: “Depression, when it is present, is more like the force of gravity. It is there, pulling down on you under all circumstances. Though I’m depressed I am often very happy – but still there is the unfeeling wet blanket of muddled confusion and writhing frustration seething under it all. Waiting.
A creeping numbness that insidiously degrades and diminishes every aspect of conscious life. A storm of screaming and hatred in dreams. A dull apathy in waking. A sinking stomach in the face of joy and a faithless lassitude in the face of hope.
Depression isn’t an emotion. Depression is a contradiction to every worthy aspect of life.”

I hope this post helps give people a better understanding of what depression is and what it isn’t.

About the author: Jamilla recently graduated with a degree in Arabic and Middle Eastern Studies and is VP of the Islamic Society at the University of Exeter. Follow her on Twitter @JamillaTweets.

Image credit: Photo by Amen Clinics.
Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website.


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A personal rant about Ramadan: Fasting with Depression

by Zara

Image credit: Sadi_M, https://m.flickr.com/photos/lilion/3866584954/in/search?q=Ramadan

Image credit: Sadi_M, https://flic.kr/p/5hGPAb

Random personal rant about Ramadan

So, some of you may or may not know that I am a Muslim. Not a good one, but a Muslim nevertheless. A little info is that in the ninth month of the Muslim calendar, Ramadan, we fast from dawn to dusk (no food or water, no smoking, ingesting of any substances).

For a few years, my psychiatrists deemed me unfit to fast. Last year I started again, this time in full knowledge of the illnesses I carry. Before then, fasting was still hard, but I was in enough denial and enough emotional pain to be completely fine with not eating or drinking, it was almost another form of self harm. Now, fasts are longer, I smoke, and instead of just being ill, I’m fighting my mental health.

Last year I managed to fast roughly half the month, and this year I’m aiming to complete the month. But my dear lord it is hard. I’ve had to rearrange my time so that I take my medication at 2am before the fast begins. And it is like all my emotions and feelings are so much more heightened during fasting. There are tidal waves of anger, sadness, guilt, loneliness and a range of many other feelings that all hit at once and are so overwhelming all I want to do is find a rock to cry under, to cut those feelings out, to make it go away. But I can’t, and I sit there with those feelings, with hunger and thirst also, in my bed waiting for dusk so I can eat something and smoke and calm down. Only to do it all again. Everyone keeps telling me if I find it too much, it is acceptable to break my fast. While I am grateful for the understanding that fasting when you have mental health difficulties is harder than fasting without, I don’t think anyone understands that breaking the fast is not helpful either. I end up feeling guilty, like I’m such a shit person for not being able to finish it. I know that may not be reality, but it’s how I feel. Like I’m stuck in a black hole.

I don’t know why I’m posting this, but what I do know is that I feel a little bit better for putting some of my thoughts into words. Anyway, another fast begins, wish me luck.

Zara wishes to remain anonymous, and is not using her real name.

Image credit Sadi_M from Flickr Creative Commons 

Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website.


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Ramadhan – “Why Aren’t You Fasting?”

by Maaiysa Valli

@Maaiysa

 Every year, Ramadhan comes. And every year, I struggle. Not with the fast – which this year is around 20+ hours long – but with NOT being able to fast.

It’s a battle I quietly face every year. And here I’ll explain why.

You may know that certain groups are exempt from fasting. The elderly, young children, pregnant or nursing women, and those who are ill. I’d love to say I’m too young to fast (but definitely not too old!!) but unfortunately, the reason I can’t fast is due to a lifelong illness. It’s meant I’ve not been able to fast since my health took a real turn for the worse when I was in my teens – though trust me, that didn’t stop me from fasting back then! But now, as the fasts get longer, I have to take the medical advice that I just can’t do it. And that saddens me. To some of you, that might sound strange: “Why would you be sad at not being able to starve yourself from 1am to 9pm?” But for Muslim brothers and sisters, you’ll know that feeling of sorrow. For those who aren’t able to fast, you can pay a Fidyah – which is money that goes towards feeding poor people. I do that every year, but I also used to make up the missed fasts in winter months – when the fasting hours are much shorter. The last time I did that though was 2011 and I ended up in hospital, so that was that!

I’ve been in two minds about writing this blog for years, as it opens me up to more questions and I’m a very private person, but I need to do this for my own sake. I don’t talk about things that are important to me. My personal life is just that and you’ll rarely find me opening up about my religion, let alone my health. In fact,  I’m someone who likes to deal with big issues internally. But for years now, I’ve dealt with the question “Why aren’t you fasting?”. People ask if I’m pregnant (no!), if I’m constantly on my period (NO!) or they just assume that I’m a “lazy Muslim” (DEFINITE NO!!) Because I’m such a private person, I never tell people the full story, I simply say “I can’t because of my health”. (And I’m afraid to say I won’t be giving the full answer here either.)

But everytime I’m asked why – by Muslims and non-Muslims alike – it hurts. It hurts that I can’t feel those hunger pains, it hurts that I can’t feel tired through fasting or the thirst that parches your throat – all for the love of God. Despite not being able to fast, I’ve always done Iftar (breaking the fast at sunset) and work permitting – Suhoor (keeping the fast at sunrise) because Ramadhan is so much about family. It’s probably the only time in the year where you’ll eat together as a family day in, day out and I love that. I love being with my parents and praying with them. But still, I always feel like I’m “missing out” in Ramadhan because I’m not fasting.

It’s the holiest month for Muslims and when you hear the word “Ramadhan”, you’ll probably instantly think about fasting. But Ramadhan is SO much more than starving yourself from food. It’s about starving yourself from sin. It’s a month for self-reflection, sacrifice, and love and peace. So while I can’t fast, I try to make up for it in other ways. I’ll pray lots of Qur’an, try and keep up with my salah (five daily prayers) and listen to lots of lectures by top scholars. In my house the telly is switched off for the whole month! But still, I get that feeling that I’m not doing enough. I’m not striving hard enough or doing my best. I always feel lazy if I’m not spending every minute in prayer or doing something good. I know for some of you reading this, it will sound so alien, but some of you will understand.

I heard a lecture the other day that said Ramadhan always comes at the perfect time and it hit the nail on the head for me. As Muslims, we look forward to Ramadhan coming, we’re sad when it ends. And for me this year, I REALLY needed Ramadhan to come. Like I said – it’s a month of self-reflection. This year has been tough for me, and recently I had a run-in with my past that made me evaluate my life. I felt like a failure. Like I’d achieved nothing and that this wasn’t how my life was supposed to be. But Ramadhan came. And less than a week in, I’m already feeling the benefits. I’m reminded that THIS is exactly where I’m supposed to be in life. THIS is what’s written for me. And every battle I go through is just a test – and Ramadhan is as good a reminder as any of that.

So while I write this blog – probably my most emotional and personal outpouring – I pray you all have a peaceful and blessed month. Whether you observe Ramadhan or not. Whether you fast or not. Whether you’re religious or not. It doesn’t matter. This month is about remembering what you’ve been blessed with and being thankful for that. And I am very thankful and very blessed. I just needed reminding…

Maaiysa Valli

This post first appeared on Maaiysa Valli’s personal website and has been reposted with permission. 

Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website.


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We Need To Talk About Periods…. Period

by Christal Williams

We need to talk about periods. Every month women are planning on how they can either A) hide their period B) hide themselves because they’re on their period. It’s time to out the taboo and put periods in the spotlight.

Sanitary towels donated to the #TheHomelessPeriod campaign

Sanitary towels donated to the #TheHomelessPeriod campaign

The fear of periods and what they represent seems to be a widespread problem among society. As a girl, when you first get your period, most likely at secondary school, it becomes the first day of many where you’ll want to hide that fact that your body is changing. For boys, it’s a completely different experience. Their first chin hair is celebrated, people pat them on the back and congratulate them. But, when a girl gets her period, everything she does is passed off as irrational, PMS or unreasonable all the way up to menopause.

This childish attitude towards periods is unfortunately manifested worldwide and largely seen as just a “woman’s” problem, something that we solely need to take care of and not speak about like a dirty little secret. In some places in the world, women are still forced to spend the majority of their menses in tents because they’re seen as so impure they need to be removed from society. In the West we may not be confined to huts physically, but mentally it’s a different story. We’re charged through the roof for what can only be described as smaller adult nappies with patronising flowery patterns on them.

Tampons, sanitary towels, moon cups or whatever blood catching device of choice you use are not considered to be essential in the UK and therefore, if you’re a woman, you better be prepared to pay tax for… well, being a woman. 5% to be exact. Many argue that if men were the ones shedding their womb lining every month, there’d be no tax and possible a couple of extra holiday days thrown in for good measure! Having the displeasure of bleeding once a month is a bad enough experience without knowing that it’s costing you extra money because the government sees sanitary products as ‘luxury, non-essential items’. Even the thought that you could go along with your day, whilst on a period, without the right sanitary products is offensive – menstrual hygiene is a right, not a luxury and the thought that it is counted as such just shows how archaic our approach to periods really is.

A petition on Change.org has already gathered over 200,000 supporters and is spreading the message worldwide. To join the campaign against the taxation of sanitary products, you can follow @BloodyDisgrace on Twitter.

Cardboard placard part of #TheHomelessPeriod campaign

Cardboard placard part of #TheHomelessPeriod campaign

For some women, buying sanitary products isn’t a problem, yes the tax is inconvenient (and insulting) but mostly bearable. But, for homeless women, the expense of buying such products is sometimes the choice between eating that day and not eating and eating almost always wins out. Campaigns such as The Homeless Period on Twitter are lobbying to change this horrendous fact. Can you imagine, having to go into a public toilet and fashion your own sanitary product of choice because your shelter can’t, or won’t, provide you with a pad? But, if you wanted to have sex, rest assured a condom would be available!

Ideally, what I would love to see is a world where women aren’t fobbed off because it’s their time of the month. No more sly comments about “being on the rag”, “code reds” or any other derogatory way of referring to menses. I want to see women being more open and unapologetic about being on their period, it’s nothing to be ashamed of! If it wasn’t for periods, none of us would be here.

Mostly, I want men to stop acting like periods offend them so much. Man the hell up and accept this is part of what is means to be a woman. We don’t shrink away in horror (mostly) because of your sometimes sweaty exteriors or excessive body hair, we go with the flow – no pun intended.

End the tampon tax, end the stigma and get the hell over it. Whether you like it or not periods are here to stay so stop taxing us and making it harder than it needs to be!

Christal Williams blogs here https://christalblogs.wordpress.com/ and you can follow her on TwitterFacebook and Instagram.

Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website.

Images credit: The Homeless Period @HomelessPeriod