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Imams’ experiences providing mental health support

Imam Dr Haroon Sidat presents emerging findings from the ‘Understanding British Imams Project’
Hello. My name’s Haroon Sidat. I am an imam in a mosque here in the North of England. I’m also an academic researcher at Cardiff University at the Centre for the Study of Islam in the UK. And what I want to do in this very short video is to take you through some interesting things we found in our research, which looks at imams in Britain. And I’m going to be particularly focusing on questions to do with approaching mental health When it comes to imams and them serving their congregations. And also the question around how mosques, the community, people can also help imams in serving their communities, especially when it comes to mental health issues more effectively.
So in our research, when we spoke with imams these imams are people who practice across England and Wales. We found that indeed they do come across a variety of mental health problems in their service. And so this can include things such as jinn possession, depression, hallucinations and OCD for example. And many imams are recognised as the first point of contact and are often trusted by their congregants to help them. Imams are quite judicious in making assessments and will usually signpost congregants to medical professionals, while at the same time continuing to provide spiritual support if required. So just to give you an example of how this might work in practice, we have one imam here who is a British-born imam.
He served in a mosque in the North of England. And here he is describing how in his role, in his role as an imam, people come to him for all sorts of issues, a variety of issues. In this particular example here. He is approached by a congregant who suspects that his friend has been possessed by a jinn. So you’ve got this as an example of how a friend comes to an imam, and he’s trusting the imam to deal with this confidentially, but also to help him in the particular issue that he might have to deal with. Now imams who understand mental health problems often also at the same time signpost people to formal mental health support as well.
But they continue to provide spiritual support as well. So there’s the formal side and there’s the more spiritual side that the congregants also need as well. And so here we have an example of another imam who is informing us about his experience. So, you know, he would see this person regularly and this particular congregant is suffering with OCD. And the imam is signposting him, but at the same time, he’s also helping him manage his particular issue when it comes to OCD as well. And so increasingly, imams are becoming aware that psychosis can be a mental health issue.
And in their roles, they are using a combination of their judgment and assistance from mental health professionals to provide a more holistic form of support. Of course, more can be done to assist them in ensuring that they reach out to professionals when needed. Courses and opportunities for them to come together and to learn from each other can be obviously an effective solution, which really leads me onto my next topic that I just want to briefly touch upon, which is the sort of training the imams would like to have when it comes to mental health issues and mental health support as well. So I think the first thing to really begin with is knowledge.
They do need support and help in knowing what mental health is and of course, what mental health is not. Now, while not their specialism, they have a lot more duties beyond what we’re talking about here. But this is a key component of their role now, increasingly, as imams. They can be trained in how to identify a potential mental health case when it arises. So here we’ve got another imam who is, he’s talking about this issue that, you know, that they can benefit from this in particular. Here is another imam who is talking about identifying a potential mental health case. So training is needed. Do we have basic training? Where can we go to? Who can we go to?
These are important issues. I think also bearing in mind is that it’s worth reflecting that imams can also be provided with an insight into identifying common mental health problems. Thereafter, they can signpost a congregant, for example, to the correct person or support for help and training on providing counselling for mental health problems. Because imams, as I mentioned at the beginning, are trusted by the congregation often the ongoing support of an imam is needed. So in this area, also imams could do with some training as well.

In this step, Imam Dr Haroon Sidat, Research Associate at the Centre for the Study of Islam in the UK, presents emerging findings from the ‘Understanding British Imams Project’.

You can find out more about the project by following the link below.

Dr Sidat, along with Dr Riyaz Timol (project lead), have been conducting a detailed study of the roles and experiences of British imams. As part of this research, they conducted qualitative interviews with imams. They found that the provision of mental health support was part of the everyday work of imams, and that some identified a pressing need for imams to be better-informed about mental health and trained to provide this support.

In this video, Dr Sidat describes the experiences of imams when dealing with mental health problems in Muslim communities and shares some examples and quotes from research interviews. The findings suggest that imams who are knowledgeable about mental health tend to signpost people to mainstream mental health professionals, mainly GPs, in the first instance. They continue to provide spiritual support alongside any mainstream support.

Findings from the Imams Project highlight that imams require training and further information on how to identify mental health problems, and where (and how) to signpost people to appropriate services.


BBSI Mental Health Toolkit for Imams, Scholars and Mosques.

Find out more about the Understanding British Imams Project, at Centre for the Study of Islam in the UK, Cardiff University.

Over to you

Where do you signpost to when you identify mental health problems? What are your experiences of doing this? Do you have any guidance or advice for other learners?

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Understanding Mental Health in Muslim Communities

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