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How Are Faith Communities Battling Mental Health Stigma?
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How Are Faith Communities Battling Mental Health Stigma?

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In recent years, the UK has woken up to the real significance of the effects that poor mental health can have on us. In addition to poor emotional health plaguing one's perspective and hence, ability to make positive and rational decisions, mental health can also influence your bodily health. So has mental health's significance been picked up by traditional support communities? Religious communities for instance?

Raised in the British Christian community, there was no education provided on mental illness, but now it seems like times have changed, and faith communities are talking about mental illness and fighting the stigma surrounding it.

Eleanor Segall, the mental health blogger, freelance writer and advocate, wrote in her article for Metro, that she had spoken to people from Christian, Hindu, Sikh and Muslim backgrounds. Interestingly, all of the people had varying experiences with mental health stigma. She quoted Jemma Regis, who spoke of her experience as a Christian with depression: ‘I suffered in silence because depression was misunderstood. ‘Growing up in Caribbean culture, there was no such thing as depression.

‘In the church it was frowned upon: ‘Christians don’t get depressed’

‘The stigma was real. It was seen as a weakness of one’s belief in God.

Segall also notes of her interview with Youth pastor Samuel Alebioshu, who added: ‘In having responsibility as a leader, we often fear how the Church community will perceive us if we open up about our struggles and, therefore, we hide behind the mask that everything is OK.

‘We need to do more to start conversations about faith and mental health.’

Rach Pardner allegedly spoke of the beneficial dimensions to her Church: ‘For me, my faith is the only thing that keeps me going at times.

‘My faith is the community that I never used to have, the family there, support that’s difficult to obtain elsewhere. We have a pastoral team’

The community aspect of faith is integral to guarding against stigma but, equally, it can also perpetuate this stigma.

Segall also interviewed individuals from the Muslim, Hindu and Sikh communities. Hashmukh Kerai, a British Hindu supposedly said:

‘Dealing with mental health in the Hindu/Indian community has been hard.

‘The stigma meant I couldn’t speak out because there is a culture of being tough and very resilient.

‘Thankfully, I have met inspiring people from my background who have shared their personal stories of mental health.’

The British Sikh and founder of the Taraki campaign, expressed:

‘In UK Sikh communities there is still a culture of silence,’ he says.

‘Some Sikh men feel unable to discuss mental health openly due to perceptions of masculinity.

‘Younger Sikhs are slowly changing this as it is becoming less stigmatised; I started Taraki after my own personal experiences to help my community be open.’

Sana Kardar, 'an ex-Muslim living in the UK', said: ‘I have been given a list of prayers and chapters of Quran to say from an Imam, that I should recite to make sure that my mental health issues are not inviting the wrath of God. Mostly I have been shunned.’

Campaigner Tamanna Miah, 'a UK-Bangladeshi Muslim' is presented to have also witnessed this in her work: ‘There is a lot of shame, fear and secrecy because people often worry about their reputation.

‘The stigma is so damaging to people’s lives, it can make people isolated and housebound, unable to do everyday things.’

But change is underway.

Myira Khan, a 'Muslim counsellor and psychotherapist' created the Muslim Counsellor And Psychotherapist Network in 2013.

She stated: ‘We have created a community of Muslim mental health medical practitioners to develop best practice, build support networks and host events.

‘We also work across the media too, and exchange and share our knowledge and experience.

‘Things are changing within UK faith communities for the better, with innovative initiatives, but there is still more work to be done to reduce mental health stigma.

Finally, Segall collected answers to the vital question: What should be done?

‘Change needs to come from within’, remarked Daniel. ‘That will happen if we enable ideas and information to be shared, and access to training.

‘Investment will help us with these things but, essentially, it’s about culture and relationships.

‘We also need to work with services, to understand more about how to relate to different religious attitudes, and cultures, and to do that we need listen.’

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