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Thursday, May 26, 2022

The new faith-based approach to tackling mental wellbeing in Bradford

People from faith backgrounds may be more receptive to faith-based approaches to mental health treatment than traditional therapy.

An event today put on by an academic from the University of Leeds and a Bradford-based nonprofit community mental health organisation discussed a new way of dealing with mental wellbeing through a faith-based approach.

Associate Professor Ghazala Mir from the University of Leeds, and Alyas Karmani, Ishtiaq Ahmed, and Uzma Kazi from Sharing Voices delivered a seminar on faith and mental health, providing evidence on the latest pilot schemes happening in Bradford.

According to research, people in British Muslim communities experience higher levels and more chronic depression compared to the general population. Statistics show that 97% of Pakistani Muslim people continue to have depression after a year compared to 45% in the general population after six months.

Mental health matters. Image: Emily Underworld.

Alyas Karamani, senior therapist at Sharing Voices Bradford has been involved with mental health services for nearly 30 years.

Speaking at the event, he said: “We are here today to look at and explore how faith and spirituality across all faith backgrounds can be incorporated into approaches into helping people deal with mental health issues.

“Also how we can use faith and integrate it into a therapeutic approach to deal with distress, trauma and wellbeing issues, creating an environment where people feel much more open about talking about these issues.”

Under referral of Muslim populations for psychological therapies, low levels of trust in mental health services among minority ethnic clients and widespread failure to accommodate spiritual needs in NHS care result in poorer treatment.

Professor Mir says that Muslims in Britain are currently a socially excluded group in the NHS system because of lack of access due to stigma, more environmental stressors, higher levels of two or more conditions in a patient that adds difficulty to treatment, and low representation among therapists.

Mr Karmani disused why people from ethnic minorities are underrepresented in seeking help for mental health and why it is important for healthcare providers and therapists to engage with people from these communities.

Black and Asian men experience depression more than other communities but face barriers in the healthcare system. Image: Sirisvisual.

He said: “Talking about mental health issues is important because we have a mental health crisis at the moment. Generally, people from faith communities and from Black, Asian, and minority ethnic communities are not accessing help for their mental health as they don’t feel that these services are relevant to them and that they don’t take on board their particular issues or concerns that they have around faith and are not contextualised around anything meaningful to them.

“Therefore, by creating models that actually incorporate faith have a powerful impact in terms of promoting positive mental health and wellbeing and also by helping them to overcome their mental health problems.”

Mr Karmani went on to say that: “In Bradford, there is a whole number of organisations out there in the voluntary and community sector as well as the statutory sector provider. However, not all of them are providing services with a faith-based or cultural approach.

“Unfortunately, there is still a stigma around mental health. There is still a lot of barriers surrounding access.

“A simple thing we can say is that when people are accessing organisations such as sharing voices they are accessing people who understand them, have a similar experience to them, and delivered to the community by people who are there to provide a non-judgemental safe space and confidential, discrete service.”

Professor Mir said: “In therapists, lack of training reinforces poor engagement with religious values within the therapy setting and a lack of familiarity with Islamic values leads to potential social exclusion.”

Mental health issues are known to be higher among ethnic minority communities but get less help than white counterparts. Image: Dollar Gill.

Negative perceptions of Islam, or religion as a whole by clinicians also impact the uptake of mental health services by people of faith. In western culture, Professor Mir suggests, faith is deemed ‘a private matter’, ‘unprofessional, ‘inferior, immoral, and dangerous’ by some secular psychiatrists.

A person of faith can view mental health through the lens of religious coping, either positive religious coping or negative religious coping. Positive religious coping is when people view their mental health through resilience, hope, and making sense of experience and an increase in self-esteem.

A person who has negative religious coping mechanisms sees themselves through punishment, obsessive behaviour, guilt, despair, and homelessness. Religious activity should be encouraged without inducing guilt, Professor Mir said.

The Culturally Adaopted Behavioural Activation (BA) therapy created by Professor Mir and her team at the University of Leeds can be used as a method to treat depression in people of faith, specifically Muslims, by building activity in a person’s life to help break the cycle of depression.

It also includes a culturally adapted framework that takes into consideration Islamic faith values, building up small and consistent steps to recovery.

Using this framework, therapists can work with a person to set goals and work through a self-help booklet, over a minimum of six sessions weekly to help people deal with depression. Male, female, and non-muslim trained therapists can offer the therapy in English, Urdu, Punjabi, and Bengali.

The booklet contains a collection of teachings from the Qur’an available in English, Urdu, Arabic, and a Turkish translation being developed with content developed and guided by clinical psychologists qualified in Islamic jurisprudence.

The self-help booklet is a resource for both the therapist and client.

One of the Islamic teachings in the booklet is the ‘Tie your camel’ story from Tirmidhi.

It says: “Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) notices a Bedouin leaving his camel without tying it. He asked, “Why don’t you tie down your camel?” The Bedouin answered, “I put my trust in Allah.” The Prophet said, “Tie your camel first, then put your trust in Allah”.

This story is used as an example of a faith-based approach of being active and doing your part to improve your mental health.

The booklet is a resource for both the therapist and the client, providing a means for therapists who are unfamiliar with the Prophetic teachings to develop their understanding.

The BA therapy is also being adapted to fit people from other faith groups. Mr Karmani says: “Adapting the approach within Islam, as well as other religious groups, is important. This is because there is such diversity out there. Still, there are so many people whether on a global level or on a local level that adhere to a faith in some shape or form.”

If you or somebody you know is Muslim and may be experiencing depression you can reach out to one of the following organisations for support:

City IAPT Team at 01274 221 181

Sharing Voices Bradford at 01274731166 or on info@sharingvoices.org.uk

Naye Subah at 01274 665 588 or on info@incic.co.uk

Womenzone at 01274 665 270 or on info@womenzone.co.uk 

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