Naz Jacobs, a Journalist and intern with WayAhead, attended the recent ‘Exploring the Mental Health of Muslims’ conference in Sydney’s Bankstown.
“Islamic beliefs and spirituality have a profound impact on suicide prevention in the Muslim community,” says Nooria Mehraby, senior clinician and clinical trainer at STARTTS (NSW Service for the Treatment and Rehabilitations of Torture and Trauma Survivors).
STARTTS and Mission of Hope recently partnered to present the conference ‘Exploring the Mental Health of Muslims’. It aimed to address mental health in Muslim communities and provide religious context for non-Muslim mental health practitioners and those working with migrant groups.
Muslims account for 23%, or 1.6 billion, of the world’s population, which is no small figure. Nevertheless, statistics collected by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 2011 indicated substantially lower rates of suicide in Muslim-populated countries in comparison to countries in which they are a minority.
While the conference encompassed a range of topics such as domestic violence and self-harm, Mehraby focused on suicide in particular. She explored the reasons why suicide rates are lower in Muslim communities, as well as ways in which mental health practitioners could explore Islamic beliefs with clients as a means to deter them from suicide.
Mehraby says that the main deterrent is the prohibition of suicide in Islam. She quoted the Quranic verse, “Do not commit suicide, as God is merciful to you,” [4:29], and explained that Muslims believe that life is a gift from God and as such are obligated to look after it.
She advised that mental health practitioners may benefit by approaching clients who have expressed suicidal ideation in a way that coincides with their spirituality. Along with the prohibition of the act, there are other elements that may prevent a Muslim individual from following through with their suicidal ideation.
Belief in the afterlife is a significant deterring factor, as Muslims believe that earthly life is temporary and therefore pain, making it easier to accept loss and grief. There is a strong belief that they will also be rewarded for their patience through their struggles.
Many individuals benefit from connecting with their broader Islamic communities and engaging in additional acts of worship. Others find solace in weighing up relative hardship, comparing their personal situation to those less fortunate.
However, despite the low rates, suicide inevitably still occurs amongst Muslims. Along with the grief associated with this, there is also a great sense of shame within communities, as other Muslims may consider the person who has taken their own life to be someone who has turned their back on Islam.
Muslim families who have been bereaved by suicide therefore require extra empathy and support, Mehraby explains. They may face social isolation and disgrace, and harbour immense guilt. Through cross-cultural counselling, they require a non-judgemental environment of respect and psychoeducation.
She says that in almost any mental health setting, Muslims have specialised needs due to their beliefs, and thus benefit from specialised approaches that consider their religious sensitivities.
This idea was discussed throughout the conference as it sought to address the diversity of mental health in Australia’s multicultural climate.
‘Exploring the Mental Health of Muslims’ was attended by Mehna Alacozy, mental health promotion officer At WayAhead, and Naz Jacobs, communications intern. Both are from CALD (Culturally and Linguistically Diverse) communities.
For information about Mental Health in Multicultural Australia, visit www.mihma.org.au.
If you are having thoughts of suicide or know someone who is, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or www.lifeline.org.au, or call beyondblue on 1300 22 4636.
Dial 000 for an emergency.