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Muslims Mental Health – an overview of research

Muslim Mental Health - an overview of research
© Cardiff University, Asma Khan

Research shows that Muslims communities face a number of barriers to accessing mental health support.

Some of these barriers relate to how Muslims understand and experience mental health problems and the support that is available to them. Other barriers relate to the ways in which Islam, Muslims, and Muslim experiences of mental health are understood by the organisations and practitioners who provide support.

This article includes an outline of research and literature around barriers to accessing mental health support for Muslims, key findings are highlighted in bold. Many of the points below are covered in more detail throughout the course. Some of the research referenced in this outline is freely available and open access. Links to the reports can be found in the reference list below and you can take a closer look at the research that stands out as particularly interesting to you.

Muslim understandings of mental health problems

  • Religious beliefs held by Muslims can influence how they understand mental health problems, this can influence whether, and how, they seek support (Pilkington et al 2012; Lantern CIC 2021). For example, some Muslims may erroneously believe that mental health problems are caused by God as a punishment for sins (Lantern Initiative CIC et al 2021).
  • Commonly held misunderstandings around the causes of mental health problems in Muslim communities can lead to stigma and shame, particularly if mental health problems are associated with being “non-religious” or “not religious enough” (Institute for Muslim Mental Health website).
  • Stigma can make people reluctant to seek support for mental health problems. (Islam and Campbell 2014; Lantern Initiative CIC et al 2021).
  • Muslims who associate their mental health problems with their religiosity may use prayer as a coping mechanism, or seek support from religious figures to address the spiritual matters that they feel are causing the problem, instead of seeking support for their mental health (Keshavarzi and Haque 2013)
  • Most Imams are not trained in mental health or mental health first aid. (Institute for Muslim Mental Health website)
  • Muslims are more likely to use religious coping techniques that those of other religious groups, and least likely to seek professional help (Mir et al 2019).
  • In a recently published report called ‘Muslim Mental Health Matters’, the Lantern Initiative report that 99% of Muslim respondents regarded mental wellbeing as being just as important as physical wellbeing, and that 84% wanted to learn more about mental health, based on data from a national survey of 926 Muslims (Lantern Initiative CIC et al 2021). This signals that Muslims in Britain want to improve their knowledge and experiences of mental health.

Muslims and mental health support

  • Research conducted by grassroots Muslim mental health organisations shows that there are low levels of awareness among Muslims around how to access mental health support (Inspirited Minds 2020; Lantern Initiative 2021)
  • Approximately half of all British Muslims are migrants and most Muslims in Britain live in poor socio-economic circumstances (MCB 2015). Both migration and low socio-economic status are associated with poor mental health outcomes (Mental Health Foundation 2016).
  • Muslims may not seek mental health support, or may prefer support from religious practitioners, because of deep concerns about modern psychiatry and psychology and their compatibility with Islam, or fear of discrimination (racism and Islamophobia) from non-Muslim practitioners (Keshavarzi and Haque 2013; Islam and Campbell 2014; Inspirited Minds 2020).
  • Muslims in Britain are under-referred to mainstream services for mental health problems. Research by Professor Ghazala Mir and colleagues (Mir et al 2019) shows that Muslims are under-represented in psychological therapeutic services; only 2% of those within Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) services are Muslim, but Muslims represent 5% of the national population. Furthermore, when Muslims do access services, their rates of improvement are lower (Mir et al 2019).
  • Recent research shows that some Muslims feel that current mainstream counselling does not cater for needs relating to faith issues (Inspirited Minds 2020); 88% of Muslim respondents to a survey expressed a preference for faith-informed counselling (Lantern Initiative CIC et al 2021).
  • Muslims also have concerns about faith-based sources of mental health support including: confidentiality; negative judgement; and lack of professional training on providing mental health support. (Lantern Initiative CIC et al 2021).

Addressing barriers to Muslim mental health support

Research reporting these barriers often presents possible solutions to them, these include:

  • Promotion of ‘mental health literacy’ among Muslim communities (Carestart 2021; Inspirited Minds 2020)
  • Mental health education and interventions for Muslims should be developed in collaboration with authoritative and religiously informed figures from Muslim communities (Islam and Campbell 2014)
  • Islamic literature and history should be used to understand mental health in Muslim communities, to tailor both mental health promotion activities and service provision. A recognition of the importance of mental health in Islam, shared by those with religious authority, can help to address issues of stigma and shame (Islam and Campbell 2014)
  • Tackling racialized or Islamophobic stereotypes among non-Muslim mental health practitioners (Bryne et al 2017)
  • Practitioners to understand and value Islam as a core aspect of people’s identity and a preferred way of coping and creating space for dialogue (Bryne et al 2017; Inspirited Minds 2020)
  • Developing greater confidence among practitioners to explore faith, culture, and discrimination (Byrne et al 2017)
  • Service providers to work in partnership with religious institutions (e.g., mosques) and directly with Muslim communities to tackle concerns and suspicions around mainstream mental health care support provision (Inspirited Minds 2020)
  • Imams, and others providing spiritual guidance and support to receive professional training in mental health support provision and the promotion of mental health care (Inspirited Minds 2020)

Over to you

What piece of evidence from the article most surprised you? Or, which piece of evidence confirms what you already know about Muslim mental health? Take a look at the other comments and see if you can add your thoughts to those of another learner.

© Cardiff University, Asma Khan
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Understanding Mental Health in Muslim Communities

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