AKBARZAI: Islamophobia takes toll on mental health
Opinions Column: Unapologetically Muslim
Mental health issues and illnesses are rarely spotlighted within the Muslim American community. Of course not all Muslim people suffer from mental health issues, but the truth is, many do and it’s very prevalent. Many Muslim Americans suffer from issues due to the occurrences in their lives, just like other groups — but many have had an increase in rates of depression, anxiety and other mental disorders due to the active discrimination and bigotry they face.
A 2011 study by the American Psychology Association, found that 82 percent of Muslim Americans felt unsafe after 9/11 signaling a “predictor for PTSD.” Furthermore, A Gallup poll called "Muslim Americans: A National Portrait,” found that 56 percent of Muslim Americans say they are “struggling.” Additionally, compared to other groups around the ages of 18-28 years old, Muslim youth are found to be the least happy. Much of this is due to the anti-Muslim political and social climate through Quran burnings, anti-Muslim congressional hearings in Congress and hate speech spewed by political leaders and presidential candidates.
After the Sept. 11 attacks, Muslim people became a target and hate crimes were at an all time high. Muslim businesses were vandalized, men and women were verbally and physically abused, women had their hijabs pulled off and children were severely bullied in school due to their faith. This type of marginalization created suffering and identity crises among many Muslim people who felt they had to hide their faith or lose their cultural values to better “assimilate” into Western society. In many ways, people were living double lives. They begin to question their identities, their prospects for the future and some even developed internalized racism against their own community. This transformed its way into anxiety and depression.
Fifteen years later, Muslim Americans are still made to feel ostracized and unwelcome. Whether it’s through the everyday incident of hate crimes that sparked after the election, turning on the television to see a presidential candidate advocating for a special Muslim database and registry or going through “random” security checks when traveling. Most individuals go to seek help through therapy or counseling. Muslim people seek help as well, whether that’s through professional help, through friends and family, or spiritually at their mosques. But while most people try to overcome their mental health issues, Muslim people are left in a permanent mind prison. Even if they try to heal themselves, all they need to do is turn on the television and listen to political pundits like Ayaan Hirsi Ali or Bill Maher tell them how their very existence as a Muslim and American is a dichotomy. And the vicious cycle begins all over again.
But the stigma surrounding mental health in this country prevents many people, including Muslim people, from seeking help. If you say you’re depressed, you’re not trying hard enough. If you suffer from severe anxiety, you’re just too much of an uptight person. But the truth is, issues such as anxiety and depression are sometimes out of the person’s control. And it’s mental illness, which many seem to overlook this fact.
We all go through our own mental struggles, but no community should ever be forced to suffer from mental health issues because of politicians and media outlets. The struggles and complexities of Muslim Americans are very diverse. It’s not black and white. They try to find themselves in a world as a Muslim an American, and everything in between.
Sahar Akbarzai is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in political science and minoring in economics. Her column, "Unapologetically Muslim" runs monthly every Fridays.
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