Stigma occurs when something is viewed negatively because of a characteristic or a personal trait that’s thought to be undesirable. It could be related to someone’s identity, mental health disorders, or their physical appearance, to name a few. Stigma leads to many issues in a society, discrimination being the primary consequence. Discrimination can be direct or indirect such as making harmful comments, avoidance of a group of people, and, in more extreme cases, violence. In the case of mental health, people might say negative things to people with mental health struggles, ignore or avoid these people or issues, or resort to bullying.
Stigma in the Muslim Community
Within Muslim American communities, stigma regarding mental health whether it's depression, anxiety, or trauma is rampant. There are many reasons that this may be the case, and many of them overlap with other groups in the United States.
Many Muslim Americans are immigrants or come from a family of immigrants. Most of these immigrants come from countries in which mental health is not discussed, valued, or believed to be a serious concern. That is not to say that mental health is not important, rather that it's not a top priority among more pressing issues including war, safety, poverty, and more. There also tends to be a lack of resources and information to learn about mental health struggles and disorders causing many people to be unaware of these issues.
Another reason for the stigma in this community is the role religion plays in Muslim American’s lives. While the religion does not claim mental health should be ignored (in fact, it’s encouraged to take care of your mind alongside your body), many Muslim American families rely on their religion to solve mental health issues. For example, praying or worshipping to alleviate a family member's depression. Some tend to forget that just like physical illnesses, mental health illnesses exist and cannot be prayed away. Many young Muslim Americans express their discontent with this tendency, claiming that their parents often do not believe them when they say they are struggling with anxiety, depression, stress, etc.
Stigma in Healthcare
In addition to the stigma seen within the community, there is also stigma from the medical community that disproportionately impacts Muslim Americans. Due to a lack of cultural competency in healthcare, many medical professionals may be unable to provide care that effectively understands and addresses the unique needs of the community. This can cause Muslim Americans to experience implicit and explicit discrimination, misdiagnosis and underdiagnosis of their mental health issues, and general feelings of being misunderstood.
How Are Muslim Youth Impacted by Stigma?
Muslim American youth face unique challenges in caring for their mental health due to the stigma within their culture. It is often difficult for young people to access mental health care or to receive a diagnosis that would allow them to access care due to the aformentioned stigma often in their households. If they are able to access care, they then may find themselves discriminated against or unable to access culturally competent care due to the stigma within the healthcare system. First generation youth often experience cultural barriers between themselves and their parents. They often know and understand that mental health is important and that they are struggling, but their parents may be unable to see where they're coming from because of cultural differences.
Stigma is compounded by extremely high rates of stress and pressure experienced by First generation youth. Many immigrant families come to the US to give their children a better life and education. Sometimes this can lead to immense pressure on the children, causing them to experience high stress, anxiety, and other mental health difficulties. Because of the stigma, they may also feel that prioritizing their mental health over academics or success would upset their parents.
What Can Be Done to Help Muslim Youth
Whether you are part of the Muslim community or not, you can help the youth by spreading awareness of mental health issues. Increasing knowledge of mental health within this community can positively impact youth by easing stigma and child-parent relationships. Being a support for Muslim youth is critical as they may not feel they have any support to lean on at times. Whether you are a teacher, school counselor, friend, or family member, providing a lending hand or a listening ear can do wonders for anyone struggling. Additionally, creating and providing accessible, culturally competent resources for Muslim youth can greatly improve their mental health outcomes and erase stigma.
Neolth is a digital stress and mental health support program for students and educators. We’re on a mission to help you stress less, build resilience, and become a part of our compassionate community. Our app helps you when you’re feeling overwhelmed with self-guided content, personalized for your mental health journey. With stigma-reducing Student Stories content, youth of all backgrounds can find solace in their peers' stories about their own mental health journeys. You can learn more at neolth.com or sign up today at cloud.neolth.com.
About the Author:
Tahsina Riju (she/her) is an Editorial intern at Neolth and a senior at Smith College studying Psychology and Economics. She is passionate about working towards making mental health issues more known and the resources to deal with those issues more accessible in immigrant communities. Some of the things in psychology that have caught her attention are gender role beliefs, immigrant generational differences, and religion as a healing source. After graduation she’s planning to go into a career that combines both psychology and economics. When not in school, she likes to spend time with her cat, watch shows, and go out with friends.