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Muslim community leaders discuss mental health in the first conference of its kind

The often stigmatized topic of mental health brought Muslims from across Houston together for a first-of-its-kind event on Saturday.

About 300 community leaders, including counselors, imams, mental health providers and refugees, gathered at the Muslim Mental Health Conference for Community Leaders in Sugar Land to address addiction, youth mental health, and the effects of COVID-19.

The Ibn Sina Foundation, a nonprofit that provides health care services to low-income Houston families, organized the conference. The foundation’s head, philanthropist Nasruddin Roubani, announced that it will expand its services by constructing a building that will include mental health support.

“Our assistance clinic will have an entire floor of mental health services, and we hope to offer a completely free service to people who can’t afford it,” said Roubani.

Access to mental health care was a focal point of the conference, especially how to seek help It can be taboo It prevents people from getting the support they need.

“Some Muslims with mental illness may think that mental illness is some kind of curse or punishment,” said Dr. Asim Shah, conference speaker and psychiatrist at Baylor College of Medicine. He said that some Muslims view seeking treatment as a form of weakness.

Shah explained that this resistance despite the fact that mental health is a major problem in every society, especially Muslims.

academic study Published by JAMA Psychiatry In 2021, Muslims in the United States were found to be twice as likely than other religious groups to attempt suicide.

“Sometimes you need more than prayer,” said University of Michigan psychiatry professor Dr. Farha Abbasi, one of the conference speakers and international advocate for Muslim mental health.

Abbasi said it is essential for religious leaders to believe — not be critical — about psychological difficulties.

“Mental health is not about judgment. It is not about sin or hell or heaven. It is about being there for your fellow human beings,” Abbasi said.

Abbasi said that the Qur’an – Islam’s holy book – emphasizes mental and physical health and that the pursuit of mental health care is in fact supported by the teachings of Muslims, not contradicting them.

It advocates a collaborative care model so mental health care professionals can partner with imams and other spiritual leaders to rely on each other to guide a patient through a spiritual or mental health crisis.

Organizers said about 30 imams and other mosque leaders attended the conference.

Amira Abkar attended the conference on Saturday and is studying for her Ph.D. So she can manage her own mental health practices to support Muslim women.

“If you make women stronger, all the children will be raised in a society that will also be stronger,” Abkar said.

So far in her experience with Muslim women, she was shocked to hear what they are dealing with inside the home.

“You see them happy, but when you sit with her and you try to let her open up, she starts crying. They have a lot of abuse, emotional abuse and verbal abuse, their wives talking to them, like ‘Who do you think you are?’”

Abakar said getting women to open up is a huge challenge, especially because there are also cultural barriers to consider. Being from Sudan, her experience as a Muslim woman is different from those of women from Central and South Asia.

The key, she said, is to maintain absolute secrecy.

The conference also addressed mental health among refugees and migrants, a topic that Kadeja Diallo knows closely as the Director of the Olive Branch Program for Muslim Family Services.

Diallo said some of her clients are struggling to preserve their culture while adjusting to new standards in the US

“The lack of familiarity is a huge culture shock,” she said, especially at a time when families are trying to deal with the fact that they left their whole lives behind.

“There is a lot of stress and anxiety about that for sure. And a lot of times things are not diagnosed because you are moving them under the rug.”

According to the Pew Research Center, 58 percent of Muslims in the United States are immigrants and most come from countries in South and Central Asia and North Africa, particularly Pakistan, India, Iran and Afghanistan. Harris County has the second largest number of Pakistani immigrants in the country.

Some 25 Muslim-majority countries were represented among the conference attendees, according to event organizers.

elizabeth.trovall@chron.com