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Religious beliefs and mental health: case study from a non-Muslim practitioner

Suzanne describes her experience of providing support to a Muslim woman who believed that her mental health problems were caused by black magic
I would say it is from the practitioner’s side is the massive need because people’s faith are people’s Faith. And one, people need to disclose that to help practitioners because if they don’t know we can’t fully help Anyone. And two, the practitioners need to understand the culture, the faith of Muslim people and maybe understand maybe why they might come late to services because of their beliefs and other things that they have tried. And I’m saying this because when I first started in Awetu as a Manager, we had a young Muslim woman come to us and oh full of life just Lovely.
But then one day she came in and she was, she was quite low and I asked her what was wrong and I noticed she was wearing a necklace that looked like a leather band with a bead on it and some hair. I said whats…? She’d fallen out with her sister-in-law And her sister-in-law had put a curse or a hex on her. I just thought that’s nothing, because I didn’t know about this. So I said it’s nothing. So I thought oh just get her talking about, because she loved to talk about makeup and whatever those things so we’ll talk about…but no she wasn’t having any of it.
She just couldn’t get out of what had happened to her and her sister-in-law, but what had happened to her it seems. And that went on for about six weeks and every time she’d come in she seemed to be lower because she, she wasn’t eating very much either and oh her mood it was awful and I still didn’t Understand. So she’d say about the thing, and I said oh don’t take notice of her. You know I had that attitude like anyone else might have that attitude if they don’t understand. So not really supporting her fully but just thinking get her mind off her, talk about the things that she likes.
Anyway, that went on for about six weeks and then she come in this one day and and the necklace was off and she was happy and I said what happened? She was talking to the sister-in-law again, and the sister-in-law had taken the curse off! So her belief was so strong and that’s why I say about faith, it’s so strong you can move mountains. If you believe something, if that is really what you believe, it could be doing anything to you. And unless us, as practitioner, s and practitioners out there can fully understand what is happening and the belief and how it can actually cause that physical illness as well as the mental illness, they’re never going to fully support people.
So those are the changes that need to be made and so by letting others know we can pass that message on and hopefully support people better. But improve services and let people know who believe in, in the jinn or other spirit possession because it’s not just Muslims you know Christians believe in the demon and demon possession so you know not just to pick out one culture. But to let people know that they can talk about, they can talk about this and that even if they went to you know faith healers or exorcists.
For some people faith healing is a great comfort but don’t just do that, seek medical help as well so it’s letting them know maybe they can do two things and not just the one thing because sometimes medication is needed. And sad for me not being able to support her properly because I didn’t know about the jinn or the curses or all those beliefs so it’s for for all of us to know and to understand. There’s nothing wrong with knowing a bit more about people you’re supporting because this is a diverse country. We’re not just treating white Christians who don’t believe in demons.
We’re treating everyone, with different Cultures, different beliefs, different Faiths, different practices, and we have to understand about them. A diverse country has to practice diversely, surely.

In this video, Suzanne Duval tells us, “people’s faith is people’s faith” and that practitioners should create spaces where Muslims feel comfortable to talk about their religiously informed spiritual beliefs, particularly when they feel that these are impacting their mental health.

Suzanne describes her experience of providing support to a Muslim woman who believed that her mental health problems were caused by black magic (or jaadu). She interacted with the Muslim woman on an informal basis in a mental health support setting (befriending service) several years ago. Suzanne acknowledges her own lack of understanding (at that time), around the impact that spiritual beliefs can have on mental health.

Over to you

Do you have experience of encountering spiritual beliefs when providing mental health support for Muslims? If so, please share an example below.

If not (or additionally), tell us if you agree with Suzanne that those providing mental health support in a diverse country should be aware of the spiritual beliefs held by people in the communities they work in.

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Understanding Mental Health in Muslim Communities

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