May is nationally recognized as Mental Health Awareness Month in the United States. This year, mental health awareness month coincided with the holy month of Ramadan. While the importance of mental health has been paramount historically in Islam, there are many misconceptions amongst Muslims about mental health. Furthermore, there exists great stigma about addressing mental health needs in the Muslim population. As a Muslim clinical psychologist, I am deeply passionate about dispelling the myths about mental health that are widely rampant in the Muslim community. Below, I outline some of the common myths I have encountered anecdotally in conversations with clients and acquaintances.
Being depressed demonstrates a lack of faith in Allah (swt) and a lack of gratitude for the blessings bestowed on you.
There are many contributing factors for depression and other mental health issues, which include genetics, biochemical imbalances, and environmental influences. While weak faith may exacerbate already existing mental health issues, and lack of desire to engage in faith-based rituals may be a symptom of mental health issues, being diagnosed with a mental health disorder and seeking help does not indicate that one’s faith is shaky.
One should keep family matters safeguarded in the privacy of one’s home and thus should not seek the help of a therapist.
A therapist can provide an objective perspective that family members and friends may not be able to provide due to their inherent subjectivity. Struggling with issues independently does not demonstrate strength, but rather, vulnerability is a true demonstration of strength.
A therapist just listens to problems. What’s the point of that?
While there are many different theoretical orientations that a therapist might adopt, a well-trained therapist will utilize a variety of techniques and strategies to help the client resolve or manage his or her issue. Therapists also provide feedback, often in a constructive manner. Many therapists utilize a collaborative approach with a client and encourage use of homework and other strategies to help the individual better manage his or her mental health needs.
An Islamic scholar is better suited to help me with my mental health needs than a therapist.
Scholars and therapists can work together in helping a client with his or her problem. A scholar can help the individual with his or her spiritual needs while the therapist can help the individual with his or her mental health needs.
Islam and psychotherapy are mutually exclusive. There is no place for Islam within therapy.
There are therapists who practice religiously integrated psychology or Islamic psychology. In Islamically integrated psychology, the therapist incorporates religious traditions such as dhikr, prayer, and use of Quranic verses in treatment. In Islamic psychology, the features of the self according to the work of early Muslim scholars are in conflict and must be balanced.
Going to therapy must mean one is “crazy.”
Individuals with various presenting problems present to therapy. The problems can range in intensity from dealing with life transitions and stressors (i.e. transitioning to college or managing mild anxiety due to new parenthood) to chronic mental health issues, such as seeking help to manage bipolar disorder or severe depression.
My hope is that the aforementioned information was enlightening and clarifies common misconceptions that are held about mental health in the Muslim community. Surely with increased awareness, we can fight the stigmas that serve as barriers for seeking help.
>Featured image courtesy of Flickr/UmairUlhaque .