Dearborn – The annual Muslim Mental Health Conference took place last week in Dearborn, Michigan, and brought together a variety of professions.
Bringing together doctors, psychologists, social workers, religious leaders, government officials, lawyers, and media producers and reporters, the Institute of Muslim Mental Health is a non-profit organization dedicated to what they call their C.O.R.E. mission: Community Outreach, Research, and Education. Dr. Farha Abbasi is an assistant professor of psychiatry at Michigan State University and founded the conference. Their eighth annual four-day conference took place at the Dearborn Inn. In collaboration with the MSU Department of Psychiatry, the need for such a conference is overwhelming.
“It’s the only conference of its kind in the nation, if not in the world,” reported NPR, Michigan Radio’s Stateside staff.
“I can’t overemphasize the importance of the Muslim Mental Health conference. We need to be talking more about mental health in our communities if we ever hope to fight the insidious stigma that prevents people who need help from seeking it,” said Melody Moezzi, writer, seminar speaker, and moderator.
“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,” Abbasi said. “That gap made me think we need to do more groundwork.”
After receiving a grant from the American Psychiatric Association, she saw her moment to bring together the religious leaders and the professionals of the science and medicine communities. She used that opportunity to make an annual conference. Not only to showcase the latest research in the field, but to also provide training for mental health professionals, Imams, and community leaders. Many of the seminars focused on the stigma attached with mental health diseases, as well as when dealing with victims of torture.
One of these seminars was given by Dr. Omar Mahmood, a psychologist based in California. Maintaining all confidentiality, he gave a general overview of a past patient. It was a Muslim man who was suspected of being a terrorist. Dr. Mahmood could not go into too much detail, but did say that he, being the only Muslim psychologist there, stepped in a spoke with this man. After so many sessions, he found that not only was this man suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from being in a war-torn country, but he was also autistic, that had yet to be diagnosed. Dr. Mahmood explained that due to apprehension from U.S. law enforcement, and cultural barriers, this man would have been sent to jail for a crime he did not commit and without receiving the mental health treatment he desperately needed.
Many Imams and Islamic centers are not yet equipped or trained for these types of issues and there is a growing need for it. Seminar speaker Dr. Munira Kassim works for refugees and victims of torture at the Psychosocial Rehabilitation Center for Victims of Torture and Refugees with the Arab Community Center for Economic & Social Services, or A.C.C.E.S.S., and says that with this growing need, the therapists should reach out to the Imams and the centers.
Another seminar was given by Dr. Mixalis Poulakis and Dr. Nour Abdelghani who spoke on Islamophobia and Law Enforcement in post-9/11 world. They began their session with this quote from President Obama, “You think right here, you’re right where you belong, you’re part of America, you’re not Muslim or American, you’re Muslim and American.”
President Obama said this when he visited a mosque recently. It was his first visit to any mosque while president.
“Imagine what would have happen if he did not visit a church for the previous seven years? What would be the outcry as a result,” said Dr. Poulakis.
Dr. Abdelghani focused on the study they gave with mid-level police officers in small towns across America with all of them encountering a Muslim at least once. They came up with 12 core themes after interviewing these police officers. The most prevalent belief is that Muslims have a different belief system than Christians with a few adding that they were more dangerous as well.
“There was a lot of black and white language of all good versus all bad, when talking about this population verses people of other religious groups, or white people,” Dr. Abdelghani said.
Gender roles and women in Islam were not a part of the questionnaire, though according to Dr. Abdelghani, it came up often enough where it did end up as one of the core themes. Most of the participants expressed the stereotype that Muslim women are subservient to men within Islam. Lastly within the study, most of the police officers admitted that they did not see a difference between Arabs and Muslims. Though approximately 62% of the world’s Muslims live in South and Southeast Asia, with the largest Muslim population in Indonesia and only about 20% of Muslims live in Arab countries.
“All praises be due to God, the conference was amazing. It addressed the physiological needs of the Muslim community in reaction to the issues in the physiological implications in the Muslim community effected by the legal justice system,” said Dr. Halim Naeem, conference coordinator.