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Muslim communities as protective factors for mental health

The role of Muslim communities as a resource for positive mental health experiences, and a protective factor against mental health problems
Asma: What do you think about that idea that Muslims might, sometimes and may, experience mental health in different ways? Do you think that that is the case? I think it can be. And there’s a number of different ways of looking at that. Firstly, I mean, the concept of mental health isn’t new in Islam. You know, scholars sort of looked back a thousand years ago and you know, this has been written up as such, but because it’s entwined with culture as well. And so we’ve got like a religious perspective on it. We have cultural perspectives, and that’s probably what people think is the religious perspective on how to deal with it.
But also, I think generally, because this, I’m thinking of particular Muslim communities like South Asians, for example, there’s stigma and negativity attached to it. So people do perceive it and deal with it differently. But… sometimes and the traditional methods of, say, using spiritual healers like pirs, thaviz, which are amulets. So people tend to go, you know, older generations have tended to go down those routes. Whereas, you know, there’s a difference in the way younger Muslims approach it, its that, and, you know, particularly in countries like the UK where they’re familiar with the terminology, they’re familiar with the concept of it in terms of Western models. So, you know, their approach is different.
So I think even within our Muslim communities, we’ve got differences some variations. And yes, there probably will be variations from how one Muslim community sees it compared to a non-Muslim community.
Asma: So there’s diversity within, between mental health beliefs and conceptualisation among different different religious groups. But there’s also diversity within Muslim groups as well as isn’t there? Yes, we’re not homogenous, are we, in the UK? I think there’s I mean, yes, predominantly Muslims are from Pakistani origin, but there are Muslims from several other Muslim countries, and we’ve got different ways of how we deal with it. The chapter that I wrote was about mental health in a northern town like Bradford. And I kind of focused it around the Muslim communities in Bradford, not just the Pakistani Muslim communities, but the different sects within the Muslim communities.
And I think one of the things that obviously with the city like Bradford, where we’ve got huge health inequalities, you can go from, say, the inner city part of Bradford to one of the outer suburbs and there’s almost a nine year life expectancy difference. That’s quite stark. So if you can imagine that you’re going to have, mental health is going to be quite high on the agenda as well. But once, however, there’s within the inner cities of Bradford because of how people, Muslim communities Where there’s faith, strong faith groups, there’s strong community networks and social networks, those kind of things have actually helped people.
And so there’s, you know, where you might be expecting that because in terms of physical health, there are so many health inequalities that the same might be applied to mental health. But yet there’s disparities because of these strong protective networks so, you know, having that sense of community belonging, Having strong religious beliefs and networks around that, these all actually help and so. But within Bradford as well, I think the other thing that’s maybe unique compared to other cities is that we have a very strong and vibrant community and voluntary sector which has always been in existence, even prior to COVID.
And there are services that had been designed, commissioned by clinical commissioning groups, but they are designed for particular types of clients. So Muslims, for example, I mean, there’s a number of services that cater for the Muslim groups and some of the work that they do with Muslim clients is unique that maybe perhaps you wouldn’t get in a statutory setting. So these kind of services really help. And the way they’re set, that they’re based within communities rather than hospitals or the places where you might expect to find these kind of services, that helps because it makes it easier for people to access, these are sort of places they would go on, you know, and access these places in their daily lives.
So, you know, they reduce things like barriers to access, but they also I think the service provision what’s provided is tailored to meet the needs of these communities. And that comes from having understanding of where people are coming from with the backgrounds and, you know, their religious beliefs, their values, etc. So I think those kind of things have helped to reduce mental illness within Bradford.

In this activity, we take a closer look at the role of Muslim communities as a resource for positive mental health experiences, and a protective factor against mental health problems.

In this video, Aamnah draws on recent research that forms the basis of a chapter she has recently authored on the topic of Muslims and Mental Health for a forthcoming book on Muslims and health inequalities (reference below).

In her response, Aamnah highlights that mental health stigma in South Asian communities can mean that they experience mental health in distinctive ways. Aamnah refers to alternative ways of coping with mental health problems among Muslims that might include consulting pirs (spiritual healers) or using taviz (protective amulets). She also says that younger Muslims, who were born in Britain, may experience and understand mental health in distinctive ways compared to people of their parents’ generation, particularly those of the first generation. Aamnah emphasises the diversity and variation among and within Muslim communities in terms of their understandings and experiences of mental health.

Through her research, Aamnah has found that in areas of Bradford where there are established faith and cultural community groups and social networks, rates of mental health problems are lower than expected. This may be a result of these faith and cultural communities providing some protection against mental health problems. Also, these areas may benefit from active voluntary and community sector (VCS) organisations that work in ways that are tailored to the specific needs of the communities in which they are located. VCS organisations can often work more flexibly and responsively than statutory mental health support providers (like the NHS or social services) and are located in everyday community spaces, which might reduce the stigma around seeking mental health support.

In their recent report, the Lantern Initiative, a grassroots mental health charity for Muslims, made the following recommendations for community organisations around Muslim mental health:

  • Centering indigenous and Islamic ways of knowing and integrating these with relevant psychological counselling skills; being mindful of engaging with and maintaining a decolonising perspective.
  • Actively and openly challenge common misconceptions.
  • Provide workshops that inform and educate communities about mental health issues and challenge misinformation.
  • Reach those who do not usually have the capacity to access mental health education, by doing targeted outreach work.
  • Provide training and information for communities on patient confidentiality laws; include laws pertaining to healthcare systems as well as those pertaining to workplace-funded counselling and others.
  • Ensure programmes are inclusive of minorities within minorities. Research each individual community demographic and needs.
  • Be trauma informed.

(The Lantern Initiative CIC, 2021)


The Muslim Youth Helpline provide a non-directional, non-judgmental, faith and culturally sensitive support service for Muslim young people. They can be contacted by phone, online chat, or email.

Over to you

Think about ways in which you might work with Muslims communities as a resource for better mental health. Can you think about one factor that would enable you to do this, and one potential challenge?

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Understanding Mental Health in Muslim Communities

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