Muslim Americans

Tips by Identity or Community

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  1. Increased risk for mental health challenges
    1. Muslim Americans tend to be at increased risk for mental health challenges. Risk factors include frequent discrimination and stereotyping, cultural norms and beliefs about speaking up, stigma around substance misuse and suicide, and accessibility of culturally competent care (or lack thereof).
  2. Portrayal of struggles, coping, and competent care are key
    1. Storytelling can positively impact the mental health of Muslim Americans by validating emotional struggles related to discrimination, spotlighting ways to cope with acclimation issues (especially for youth), and portraying culturally competent mental health care.
This section was written in partnership with MPAC.

Storytelling Tips

Diversify Representation
  • Accurately represent the diverse range of mental health experiences within the Muslim American community.
  • Muslim Americans are an extremely diverse group, so it’s important to not lump the mental health challenges affecting all Muslim Americans into one character or cast member.
  • For example, Black Muslims (the largest Muslim community in America) have been the target of social injustice based on both race and religion, creating a need for specialized mental health care services in predominantly Black Muslim mosques and Islamic Centers. Stories representing this group might look different than stories representing the experiences of the Muslim American community at large.
  • Storytelling can amplify the components of Islam that support a proactive approach to wellness and mental health. Muslims believe in being optimistic, purifying their feelings, and not waiting for outside events to improve. Muslims also believe in an interior power that can be exercised to have a calm mind, healthy consciousness, and positive thoughts. 
  • Use the Expert Directory to find partners who can inform nuanced, accurate representation of Muslim American mental health.
Spotlight Support from Friends and Family
  • Depict positive conversations about mental health with family or friends. 
  • Since mental health can be a taboo subject in the Muslim community, portraying these conversations in realistic, effective ways could help decrease stigma and encourage dialogue.
Depict Effective, Realistic Help-Seeking and Treatment
  • Portray culturally competent care and highlight the role that religious leaders can play in mental health promotion and suicide prevention. 
  • Muslim Americans may be more likely to turn to their mosque’s Iman (religious leader who leads worshippers in prayer) than a medical professional. There is a movement to better train Imams to recognize and support signs of mental health challenges and share resources for help-seeking. Highlighting the role religious leaders can play in mental health promotion and suicide prevention can help both Imams and the people they support. 
  • Additionally, portraying culturally competent care could increase awareness and usage of traditional mental health resources.
Represent the Complex Causes of Mental Health Challenges
  • Highlight the connection between discrimination and mental health challenges, and empower viewers to address negative perceptions. 
  • Adjusting to new cultures, especially ones where negative perceptions and discrimination toward one’s ethnicity or religion are high, can strain mental health. Storytelling can help us all understand how to battle negative perceptions and better support our Muslim community members.  

Snapshot

About 3.5 million Muslims currently live in the United States, and that population is growing. By 2040, Muslims will be the nation’s second-largest religious group, after Christians.

There is a general lack of information and resources related to Muslim American mental health and research shows that:

Additionally, Muslim Americans may be at increased risk for adjustment disorder, an ongoing negative emotional or behavioral reaction to a stressful event or change in a person’s life, like other marginalized communities. Upwards of 40% of Muslim Americans seeking mental health support may be experiencing adjustment disorder. This could be a result of challenges in balancing home life and American culture, negative perceptions of Islam in America, and hurdles for recent immigrants who are adjusting to life in the United States. Muslim Americans are also less likely than the general population to report having strong social supports — likely due to discrimination against their community.

Cultural norms and beliefs, stigma, and lack of access to culturally competent care may inhibit members of the Muslim American community from seeking help for mental health challenges. For example, because Islam prohibits the use of any substance that alters the mood or mind, some fear being judged if they seek treatment involving medication. This stigma can be even worse for women who struggle with substance use. Misconceptions about mental health in the Muslim community also include the belief that mental health is a taboo subject that brings shame on individuals and families, that pursuing mental health care is being “nonreligious” or “not religious enough,” and that emotional struggles are tests from God. Muslim mental health professionals worry that the deep-rooted stigma around suicide in Islam will prevent Muslim communities from participating in the national dialogue on suicide prevention, and have been working on initiatives to rectify this within their community.  

It’s only in the last 20 to 30 years thatthatattempts have been made to provide mental health services tailored to the specific sociocultural needs of Muslim Americans of various ethnic backgrounds, and a lack of knowledge about the religious beliefs, customs, or rituals of Muslim patients by non-Muslim providers is an ongoing challenge. Studies have identified a need for more multicultural and multilingual centers that are tailored to address the mental health struggles within Muslim American communities in order to increase help-seeking.

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more in part 6