By Amr Omar
More and more, the Muslim community, along with other faith-based communities, are realizing the importance of mental health. Particularly, millennials and the youth today are realizing how to separate mental health from spiritual and physical health, while also understanding a loose connection between the three. Despite this, there still remains a strong stigma around mental health and seeking treatment within our community.
Thankfully, more and more Muslims are entering the mental health field and pursuing higher education in the field. We interviewed someone from the Atlanta community, Arubah Khan, a third year Counseling Psychology PhD candidate at the University of North Texas about her pursuit and how mental health relates to the Atlanta community.
- **Why did you decide to pursue counseling psychology as a field?
That’s a hard question to answer. I could give you a plethora of reasons—it’s fascinating trying to predict human behavior, I’m passionate about social justice, I want to be able to help people live a fulfilled, happy life. But in reality, when it came down to it, I felt that being a part of this field would give me the unique opportunity to raise awareness in the Muslim-American community about mental health issues while also giving me the ability to help Muslim-Americans both through research and by offering counseling.
- **How do you hope to apply your mental health research to the Muslim community?
My primary interest is in Muslim-American youth and young adults. I am really interested in understanding the effects of unique stressors that young Muslim-Americans face: practicing faith in the midst of so much negative media attention, living with a faith that is so different from Western culture and ideas, forming the Muslim-American identity despite (often) having immigrant parents. Growing up Muslim in America has been one of the hardest and most rewarding experiences of my life—I want to know how it’s been for everyone else! Doing research on the effects of such factors on individuals’ wellbeing will provide so many important counseling implications for this population.
I’m also very interested in religiosity. All Muslim parents want their children to be practicing Muslims, and we know through research that religiosity has several protective factors. I want to understand more about how Muslim religiosity functions in day to day life, and I want to know what factors in our Muslim communities minimize religion-related stress. Understanding these factors in the context of our current generation will help us maximize psychological wellbeing for future generations.
- **What would you like the Muslim community to understand about mental health?
It’s real. Treat mental health like physical health. If you were physically sick, you wouldn’t just ignore it—even if others were telling you that you were “fine.” You would seek help! Do the same about your mental health. Another problem in our community is that even people who “believe in mental health” don’t know what resources are out there. To me, that’s one challenge for the up and coming Muslim mental health professionals—we need to make ourselves available.
I also want the Muslim community to understand that counseling isn’t just about depression, schizophrenia, or personality disorders. I see clients for things like school-related stress, social anxiety, and racial stress. The content of our sessions is just as important and concentrated as my sessions with clients who have long-term depression. If you are human, you are eligible for counseling and there is nothing shameful or weak about those who seek help. In fact, y’all are the strong ones.
- **What can you tell us about your current research study?
We are currently collecting data through a survey which examines the parental attachment, religiosity, and psychological wellbeing experienced by Muslim-American young adults. The survey takes about 35 minutes for participants to complete, and no part of the survey asks for identifying information so any input and responses to any questions are anonymous and confidentiality will be maintained in any publications or presentations regarding this study. Anyone who identifies as Muslim-American and is at least 18 years of age can take part in my research study.
- **How can the Atlanta Muslim community support your current research study?
Help me add to the severely lacking literature on Muslim-Americans. We are a growing population and we deserve a voice in the conversation about mental health, particularly at a time when our ummah is constantly in the spotlight. Click the link below and take my survey! Share the link, spread the word. JazakhAllah khair.
Editor’s note: Arubah Khan is a third year student in the Counseling Psychology PhD program at UNT. Arubah grew up in Atlanta, Georgia with her two siblings and parents. Following her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Georgia State University, Arubah joined the Cross-Cultural Attachment Lab at UNT to pursue her research interests in cross-cultural adjustment of immigrants and intersecting identities among ethnic minorities. More specifically, she is interested in the unique stressors that can hinder or help the identity formation of Muslim-American young adults. Currently, Arubah is completing her thesis project, which explores the interaction between parental attachment and Islamic religiosity in Muslim-American young adults, as well as the effect of this relationship on overall psychological wellbeing. Her views are solely her own.