Factors that Put U.S. Muslims at Risk for Mental Health Problems
Discrimination, Bullying, and Profiling. Muslims often report feeling attacked, isolated, and alienated in the US. This affects not only Muslims, but anyone who “appears” or “sounds” Muslim. Muslim women, especially those who wear the Islamic outer Islamic covering, hijab, have become victims of harassment, intimidation, and physical violence. Muslim youth are treated as potential threats and bullied by peers and those in authority, including teachers and professors. Muslim children are more likely to be bullied in school than children of other faiths. A survey by the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU) reveals that 42%of Muslims with children in K–12 schools report bullying of their children because of their faith. Kunst et al., reports that the daily, repetitive harassment Muslims face is the biggest factor contributing to long-term mental health issues in Muslim populations. The younger the age of exposure to harassment, the greater the likelihood of developing depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic distress. The sense of persecution felt by Muslims, particularly youth, can impact self-esteem and identity.
Islamophobia and hostility. Islamophobia attacks core aspects of Muslim identity--race, religion, and ethnicity—creating toxic and persistent stress that has detrimental and cumulative effects on the physical and mental health of individuals in the community as well as the community as a whole. Faith-based discrimination can deprive Muslims of the health-promoting aspects of social connection and communal solidarity, instead of creating a sense of fear, uncertainty, and insecurity that makes it difficult for American Muslims to develop a healthy communal life.
Challenges accessing health care. While socially, culturally, and economically diverse, the American Muslim community by and large shares a religious worldview that influences its members’ health-related behaviors and their interactions with the health care system. Despite this, few studies have explored whether American Muslims experience health disparities, or how their beliefs may both hinder and promote health. Researchers with an interest in this topic face immense challenges, including a lack of funding, potential language barriers, and difficulties identifying study samples. Since Muslims are portrayed so negatively in the current political and social environment, many Muslim Americans may not want to discuss mental health issues.
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Suggested Assessment and Treatment Recommendations
Please see Suggested Assessment and Treatment Recommendations for Marginalized Populations
Employ culturally sensitive therapeutic interventions. Research suggests that culturally sensitive therapeutic interventions could make it easier for Muslim families to discuss mental health problems and accept care. A report in the Journal of Muslim Mental Health advises that clinicians recognize the microaggressions and unconscious bias Muslim patients experience that contribute to their vulnerability, including those that may occur in treatment or therapy. A 2017 report published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, outlined some of the issues that patients from marginalized communities such as American Muslims may face, including discrimination based on ethnicity, cultural background, or faith, and the fear of deportation.
Consider building specialized, culturally and religiously congruent clinics. The Khalil Center, the largest national mental health provider for Muslim faith communities, offers a recommended model for spiritually integrated therapy. TThe Handbook on the Cultural Formulation Interview contains supplementary modules including ones on Immigrants and Refugees and Spirituality, Religion, and Moral Traditions that can be useful in this process.
Recognize Muslim patients’ vulnerabilities and the stressors and trauma they may experience.
Seek out cultural and religious sensitivity training for health professionals as needed to provide culturally appropriate care to Muslim patients. Build awareness of your own implicit biases to help prevent stereotyping patients and further hindering the treatment process.
Engage with the local Muslim community to provide education and information about mental health conditions and services, including inpatient hospital admission policies, insurance coverage, and patient rights. Institutions and hospitals that serve Muslim populations are ideal partners for engagement opportunities with local Muslim communities.
Work with community and faith leaders to help reduce stigma, increase understanding, and develop services that are more accessible to Muslims. An example of this would be to ensure hospital units have available praying spaces, chaplain services, and halal food.
Consider creating collaborative care models and ways to make Muslims feel welcome at area clinics.
Address potential language barriers by providing forms and medical info in Arabic, Urdu and Farsi and using official interpreters or language lines when needed.
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American Psychiatric Association. Cultural formulation. In: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association; 2013:749-759.
Ahmed, S. and Amer, M.M. (2012). Counseling Muslims: Handbook of Mental Health Issues and Interventions. New York, NY, Routledge: Taylor and Francis Group.
Awaad Rania. “A Journey of Mutual Growth: Mental Health Awareness in the Muslim Community” in Partnerships in Mental Health. Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2015 L.W. Roberts et al. (eds.)
Council on American Islamic Relations Civil Rights Report on Muslims http://islamophobia.org/images/2017CivilRightsReport/2017
FBI hate crimes statistics https://ucr.fbi.gov/hate-crime/2016/hate-crime
Harvard Implicit Training https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/ /File%20Library/About-APA/Organization-Documents-Policies/Policies/Position-2018-Discrimination-of-Religious-Minorities.pdf
Institute of Muslim Mental Health www.muslimmentalhealth.com
Islamophobia Studies Center http://crg.berkeley.edu/content/islamophobia
Khalil Center www.khalilcenter.com
Lewis-Fernández R, Aggarwal NK, Hinton L, Hinton DE, and Kirmayer LJ. DSM-5 Handbook on the Cultural Formulation Interview. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association; 2016. Mental Health: A Guide for Faith Leaders (2015) /psychiatrists/cultural-competency/faith-community-partnership
Moffic, H.S., Peteet, J., Hankir, A., Awaad Rania (2019). Islamophobia and Psychiatry Muslim Mental Health Consortium, Michigan State University http://www.psychiatry.msu.edu/
Recognition, Prevention, and Treatment. Springer Nature Switzerland AG: Springer International Publishing.
Stanford Muslim Mental Health and Wellness Program http://med.stanford.edu/psychiatry/research/MuslimMHLab.html