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The 7th Annual Muslim Mental Health Conference happens this week in Dearborn

dr farha abbasi
Michigan State University

This week will bring a gathering of doctors, psychologists, social workers and religious leaders to Dearborn for the 7th Annual Muslim Mental Health Conference.

It's the only conference of its kind in the nation, if not in the world.

Dr. FarhaAbbasi is an assistant professor of psychiatry at Michigan State University and a practicing Muslim. She founded this conference in 2008.

“I was a psychiatry resident at the moment and I realized during my practice that I wasn’t seeing as many Muslim patients, while I was aware that the community had seen issues with depression, anxiety happening,” she said. “That gap made me think we need to do more groundwork.”

Around that time, Abbasi received a grant from the American Psychiatric Association and saw it as an opportunity to unite faith-based leaders, imams and professionals of the science and medicine community.

But the question remained: Why aren’t Muslims accessing mental health care?

Abbasi acknowledged that the issue is not specific to the Muslim community alone.

“There is a generalized stigma around mental health,” she said. “But when I come back to closely observe the faith-based community, this is a very common theme. People feel that if you acknowledge mental illness, somehow you are acknowledging a weakness in your faith, that your religion is not enough for you or you are not praying enough, or there is this shame and guilt of letting down your family, letting down your community, letting down God. So all that plays into it.”

Beyond the faith-based religious stigma is the Muslim community’s situation today. Abbasi pointed out that one-third of the slaves who historically came to this country were practicing Muslims.

“So we have that historical trauma which is based in the African American Muslim community,” Abbasi said. “And on top of that, post-9/11, we have immigrant Muslim populations from South Asia, Arab countries, Middle Eastern countries, suffering very blatant Islamophobia currently. So all that has made this already vulnerable situation more complex.”

Abbasi went on to say that second-generation immigrants tend to have higher rates of depression.

“From the Muslim community point of view, the causes that we are looking at, most probably the first generation is so entrenched into integrating into the system that they are not expressing the depression,” she said.

The second generation, however, is faced with the challenge of “navigating bicultural identities.”

“Now the Muslim – or any religious, faith-based community – what we have realized is the happy medium is that if you are very aware and accepting of your own religion and adapting it to the host culture,” she said.