Talking about mental health issues is a very difficult thing to do in the Muslim community. Whilst national data around deaths by self-harm do not indicate the race or religion of those deceased, many doctors, social workers and mental health professionals have noted a worrying increase in Muslims self-harming and attempting to take their own lives.
This is by no means only a Muslim issue. In 2017 intentional self-harm was a leading cause of premature mortality in Australia. While intentional self-harm accounts for a relatively small proportion (1.9%) of all deaths in Australia, it accounts for a high proportion of deaths among younger people. Suicide accounted for over one-third of deaths (36%) among people aged 15-24 years of age, and over a quarter of deaths (30.9%) among those aged 25-34 years. There were 108,081 years of life lost to intentional self-harm in 2017.
For Dr Mohamed Helmy, an academic lecturer and mental health clinician at South West Sydney Mental Health Services, one of the major pathways towards suicidality can be found in drug and alcohol abuse.
“We’ve seen many people who have reached the stage of ‘drug-induced psychosis’, which means they have consumed illicit drugs and alcohol excessively. Their mental world becomes deteriorating rapidly, and the also become disconnected from reality. At that point, anything can go, and that’s where see a lot of suicide.”
One major factor around suicide in the Muslim community is the religious prohibition of the act of taking one’s life. According to Dr. Helmy, this is a major deterrent for many Muslims, who may engage in self-harming but do not go so far as to take their own life due to the religious teaching.
However, the prohibition has also resulted in strong resistance to and discomfort when talking about the issue. “That feeling of shame actually may drive the person to and other family members and friends to mask those feelings rather than getting them address,” says Dr. Helmy.
If you or anyone you know is struggling with these issues, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14, or visit beyondblue.org.au.
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