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More needs to be done to protect the mental health of young British Muslims

In a society where Muslims are constantly placed under the lens, examined, picked apart and policed for their views, it can be argued that the chances of young Muslims developing and suffering from mental disorders is increasing. From anxiety to depression, the mental and physical health of the Muslim community is deteriorating, with there being a lack of support and recognition of this issue within our local communities and groups. But more than anything, the increase in such disorders demonstrates how the current narrative that is prominent in society is becoming increasingly problematic to the growth of young Muslims across the world.

Social media is a wonderful tool that allows us to stay connected to millions of people from all over the world, from different backgrounds and communities, thus providing us with stories, both good and bad, from all over the world. However, for all of its benefits, social media has also developed an ugly side where racism, xenophobia, sexism and bullying of all types has become prominent. With the rise of videos portraying attacks on visibly Muslim men and women circulating across platforms like Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, and with organisations like Tell Mama and CAIR reporting that ‘2017 is to be the worst year for anti – Muslim hate crime’, it is becoming harder for Muslims to ignore the rising anti – Muslim sentiment.

As a young Muslim, I constantly find myself in conversation with other Muslims who talk about their struggles with mental health and the constant pressure and dread they feel whenever terrorist incidents happen. Creating a focus group, I asked some young British Muslim students about their experiences and views when discussing the mainstram narrative in the media. As one young Muslim woman, aged 20, explains,


“The reaction of Muslims is no different to that of any individual, the first thought that rushes to our minds is that we hope that people are okay.’ As she explains, ‘Despite being Muslim, we are also British – these aren’t two mutually exclusive identities, but rather one – I am a British Muslim, and as a result I care for those living within my community.”

This idea was supported by others within the discussion, with many explaining how the backlash of the media coverage causes them to worry as it ‘gives the far-right fuel to attack us’. Many also expressed their discontent at the response of the local authorities, with one individual making reference to the acid attack in East London which saw a young Muslim woman and her cousin suffering severe burns and the felt reluctancy of the authorities to proactively seek out the perpetrator.

When asked about how they felt leaving their homes as visible Muslims, or how they felt about loved ones who did observe religious wear, many expressed their concerns. One woman, also 20, explained how it ‘felt dangerous to be brown’, with many agreeing given the current climate and rise in acid attacks they felt as though they were more likely to be victims, even if they weren’t wearing religious attire.

This has also raised the question over the racialised aspect of Islamophobia, with many pointing to individuals like Tommy Robinson for solely attacking the South Asian, but also more generally, the BME Muslim community and their failure to ‘integrate’. Many Muslim women have also expressed their concerns over travelling alone, as many feel afraid to look ‘too Muslim’ in public for fear that they may be attacked or harrassed. The men within the discussion also raised concerns that when dressed in Islamic clothing they felt ‘on edge’, but also expressed their sympathy as they believed Muslim women were more at risk of being victimised.

Many young Muslims have also taken to Twitter to criticise the ‘apologetic culture’ that has become prominent, where Muslims have to rush to defend themselves online whenever news breaks of a terrorist attack, with this happening before it is even confirmed that the perpetrator was a Muslim. Many argue that such actions not only emphasise the alleged relationship between Islam and terrorism, but that the only people who should apologise are the perpetrators, not the entire Muslim community. However, some have argued that condemnations are needed, as without these they feel they (Muslims) would be more ostracised from society.  This also shows how within this spectrum of opinions, Muslims are conscious of their image and how they come across within society.

Not only are young Muslims being exposed to the hateful discourse online, but many are starting to doubt their own faith and are taking steps to disassociate themselves from their religion in order to escape the hate they may receive. Some Muslims have explained how there is a ‘sense of anxiety surrounding the Muslim community’, with others explaining how many Muslims ‘feeling ashamed of their own religion’. This sentiment not only demonstrates the alienation they experience virtually, but also from their own local support system, as pulling away from the religion causes personal relationships to break down, thus making more Muslims prone to mental health disorders like depression and anxiety. Many individuals have explained how they have taken their hijabs off or shaved their beards in order to look less Muslim or shorten their names in order to ‘blend in’. As one individual explains,

‘We shouldn’t be excluded from society because we choose to practice our faith’.

Therefore, it becomes clear that the current discourse surrounding Muslims is proving detrimental to Muslim mental health. Stuck between constantly apologising to not apologising enough, to being Muslim or ‘not Muslim enough’, the current Muslim generation is growing up in a time where they are placed under the critical lense, leaving them in a complex paradox. Add this to the existing issues young people face whilst growing up, it can be argued that young Muslims are finding it harder to hold onto their religion and their own identity. More must be done within the Muslim community to tackle the issues surrounding mental health, anxiety and to nurture the spiritual growth of our youth. Whether that be through self help workshops or mindfulness and counselling at our local community centres or mosques, we must be more proactive in creating a generation of Muslims who are confident with their identity and can be strong minded individuals.

by Zahraa A

 

Zahraa A is currently going into her final year of my International Relations degree. She loves anything and everything political or historic, with postcolonial theory, feminism and anything surrounding political movements from the PoC/BME community, Muslims and her own South Asian culture being her key interests. She blogs at ‘The Muslim Diaspora‘.

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