North Texas Muslim Community Must Talk To Youth About Mental Health

At ten days of the holy month of Ramadan, the Muslim community was rocked by the murder-suicide of six family members in Allen. This family was part of the close-knit Bangladeshi community. Two brothers are said to have committed suicide, along with their families, after entering into a suicide pact.

Horror, sorrow and immense sadness have pervaded the entire Muslim community in North Texas. Within a week, a multitude of grief counseling groups, healing circles, Zoom presentations, text recordings and Facebook Live sessions have sprung up across town. Mental health professionals have spoken out and offered resources to families to deal with this tragedy. Muslim religious leaders have started dialogues about the incidents in their congregations and with panicked parents looking for solutions.

It was all a well-intentioned support system for the Muslim community. Ironically, in most of these spaces and conversations, the demographic most affected by anxiety, depression and suicide was missing: young Muslims between the ages of 15 and 25. This group does not come forward and ask for help.

Some of the reasons for not reaching out are shame, guilt, and social pressures that are commonly associated with the phrase, “What will people say?” “Or in Urdu,”loag kiya kahen gay.

When young adults seek help from mental health professionals, they encounter a major barrier with a lack of cultural understanding on the part of most professionals and service providers.

I have served the Dallas Muslim community for the past 18 years in various capacities, and my primary focus has been to provide social service with cultural sensitivity and competence. It opened my eyes to see that in dealing with mental health and trauma the first step is cultural understanding. I have young people who say that they feel misunderstood by their parents and when, out of desperation, they contact school counselors, these adults have no idea how to solve their problems and problems. These young people tell me that school counselors do not understand their families and their culture. They tell me, “We feel isolated.

This prompts them to turn to their peers for help. However, young people often do not have the same resources or knowledge as mental health professionals. Sometimes it can do more harm than good. Resources aside, other young people can often magnify the problems themselves. They are not immune to the bullying and stigma of mental health.

Even if a young person visits a mental health professional, counselor or other trained health professional, these professionals are not trained in culturally appropriate services or strategies. This can often exacerbate the problems, causing feelings of hopelessness. The youngster asked for help, but it didn’t help.

Parents are just as important in this equation. In the case of immigrant families, children are bicultural, feeling pressure to retain their parents’ culture, while conforming to Western society. Parents’ insistence on certain careers adds pressure to excel in academics. Some parents are so focused on social and school work that empathy and compassion are not part of parenting. Sometimes they don’t believe their kids have mental health issues and tell them it’s a lack of faith.

As a parent of young adults myself, I have always thought that being active in their life, being a mother of PTA, knowing their friends and creating positive activities was good parenting. But my kids have taught me that having difficult conversations, actively listening, and responding with empathy and compassion are also part of parenting. It doesn’t matter if you provide them with everything under the sun. As parents, we have the best interests of the children in mind, but we are misled by our own influences, prejudices and culture.

How do we as parents, community and religious leaders, and health professionals find solutions?

The solutions do not lie solely with religious leaders, parents or mental health professionals. It is a partnership of all. Above all, the solution must come from the age group that suffers the most. If this age population is not part of the conversation then we are all working in our own echo chambers and these incidents will continue.

As parents and community builders, we need to create and facilitate safe spaces for young people to voice their concerns. Young adults are more likely to turn to their friends before anyone else, and equipping these young people with the right tools can be as necessary as faith groups and professionals working together.

Religious leaders, mental health professionals and parents must work together, with young people in mind, to create solutions.

Mona Kafeel is Executive Director of the Texas Muslim Women’s Foundation Inc. and a member of Public Voices with The Op-Ed Project. She wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News.

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