The Delicate Mind is an award-winning mental health not-for-profit that is trying to reshape the conversation surrounding masculinity, faith, and mental health. Set up in the UK, this organization noticed the unhelpful ways in which masculinity and mental health were viewed in the Muslim community. For many Muslim men, the community to which they belong has certain standards of masculinity which mean that they cannot get the support they need when they are struggling. Two men, however, wanted to change this.
Farrukh Abeed and Nikhwat Marawat (who lost his brother to suicide two years ago) created a workshop on mental health and masculinity, as part of the Delicate Mind. At the meeting, topics of discussion include suicide, depression, and anxiety. Abeed and Marwat also asked participants to consider the relationship between culture and masculinity. For instance, some Muslim men struggling with anxiety or depression find that people at the mosque will simply tell them they’re not praying enough. This kind of response misses the mark. Prayer can only go so far, it seems.
Why Muslim Men Need a Safe Space to Talk Openly
Marawat is the co-founder and Director of the Delicate Mind. Since losing his brother to suicide, he has been passionately campaigning for a better understanding of mental health. He has argued that there is a lot of ignorance and stigma about mental health issues in black and minority ethnic (BAME) communities and strongly believes this has to change. He writes:
“For example, within the South Asian community, there still exist ideas reinforced through culture such as the notion of bad spirits (Jinn) taking hold of a person's mind. When these ideas still exist and are not tackled, we will continue adding to this misinformation and lose more people.”
Marawat also points out that many minorities go without mental health treatment when they need it:
“Justice and progress is being made with mental health in the BAME community. More and more I am made aware of fantastic organizations working on BAME mental health, dealing with the stigma, misinformation and providing help to those who feel helpless.
Yet, when BAME people are more likely to be diagnosed with mental health problems, and more likely to disengage from mainstream mental health services, somewhere, somehow, justice is not being served.”
Muslim men, in particular, may avoid mental health treatment or believe they don’t need it because of the attitudes surrounding masculinity they are exposed to in their community. Here we find the intersection between gender, culture, and mental health creating a unique problem for Muslim men.
Muslim Men Pressured to Ignore Their Mental Health Problems
Many Muslim men feel expected to take a stoic approach to their mental health problems and just brush them under the carpet. As mentioned before, they also have to grapple with the pervasive belief that faith should be enough to overcome mental illness. Mohammedabbas Khaki, in writing for The Independent, offers his perspective on the matter:
“…my years on the frontline of the NHS during emergencies like Grenfell, as well as volunteering with refugees and internally displaced people in Calais, Lesvos and Iraq have opened my eyes as to how mental illness affects Muslim men, like myself, in slightly different ways.
It’s the culture, you see. We’ve inherited sometimes noble, often harmful ideals of traditional masculinity, of the importance of stoicism, of being seen as the unbreakable, impenetrable provider without weakness.
Other downright dangerous traditional views also persist. Blame is often placed on the person who is depressed, and their faith questioned as if it is an issue of belief. Mental illness is often seen as a weakness.
Often, community members believe that because depression isn’t visible, it is simply not real. In fact, it speaks volumes that the word “depression” doesn’t even exist in many of the South Asian languages most widely spoken by British Muslims. The closest equivalent phrase means “long-term psychotic type condition”.”
Khaki stresses that men should not feel they have done anything wrong if they have mental health issues. And there is no need to suffer in silence. For many Muslim men experiencing problems like anxiety or depression, organizations like The Delicate Mind are a true blessing. The meetings set up by this organization help Muslim men to speak openly about issues like depression and anxiety, which they otherwise feel unable to do in their community and amongst friends and family. Marawat, however, thinks having a wider conversation about mental health is also extremely important. At the end of his article for HuffPost UK, he writes:
“Talk. It's a cliché, but talk, and I mean really talk. It's a courageous thing to do. Raise your voice in your culture and your communities that still seek to silence you.”
The risk of not talking is just too severe and catastrophic. In the UK, more than 1 in 4 young people pass due to suicide each week. Marawat wants to dedicate his life to ensuring that this number is lessened.