American Muslims Two Times More Likely to Commit Suicide Than Other Faith Groups

“If you believe that your mental illnesses will bring shame on you or your family, then you tend to stay silent about it,” said Dr. Farha Abbasi, founder of the Muslim Mental Health Conference. 

Adult Muslims in the United States are twice more likely to attempt suicide in comparison to individuals from other faith groups. This is according to survey results in a letter published by the JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) Psychiatry.

8% of Muslims in the survey reported a suicide attempt in their lifetime compared with 6% of Catholics, 5% of Protestants, and 3.6% of Jewish respondents. The two main factors that attribute to these higher suicide rates are religious discrimination and community stigma, which prevent Muslims from seeking help.

“If you believe that your mental illnesses will bring shame on you or your family, then you tend to stay silent about it,” said Dr. Farha Abbasi, founder of the Muslim Mental Health Conference

Rania Awaad, MD, Director of the Stanford Muslim Mental Health & Islamic Psychology Lab at Stanford University School of Medicine and researcher for this study, states the “study aimed to understand the increasing number of suicide attempts in U.S. Muslims we were seeing anecdotally and in clinical settings.”

In 2017, former President Donald Trump signed an executive order banning people from six Muslim-majority countries from entering the USA. It included the countries Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and, Yemen. This ‘Muslim ban’ was upheld in Supreme Court in 2018. On President Biden’s first day in office on 20th January 2021, he signed an executive order to reverse the Muslim ban.

Before the ban, primary care visits and individual stress diagnoses for people from Muslim-majority nations were on the rise. But the year following the ban, 101 Muslims in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area missed primary care appointments. There were also approximately 232 more emergency department visits by individuals from nations targeted by the ban than would have been predicted.

And unsurprisingly, women who wore the hijab also reported more discrimination in health care settings than women who did not.

According to the CDC, over the last two years suicide in America has increased by 50%.  In order to combat this growing issue in the American Muslim community, suicide response efforts need to be specifically tailored.  It has to be religiously and culturally appropriate enough for Muslims to feel confident enough to seek help in the first instance.

Awaad states thatconsidering the differences in our findings between Muslims and members of other faith/non-faith groups, it is imperative that suicide response efforts are specifically custom-tailored to this faith-based population.”

It’s also important to understand the level of an individual’s religiosity did not affect their odds of reporting suicide attempts. Religious leaders such as imams must encourage discussion to stop the damaging assumption that mental health problems mean you are simply a weak Muslim. 

Awaad has also started a campaign to train 500 Muslim imams by 2022 so they are better equipped to deal with tackling suicide amongst American Muslims. The tragic news of two brothers Farhan Towhid, 19, and Tanvir Towhid in Texas, Allen who reportedly suffered from depression, made a pact to kill 4 other family members family and commit suicide serves as a stark reminder to the Muslim community worldwide that mental health and suicide cannot be ignored. 

At the same time, US lawmakers need to take anti-Muslim legislation into consideration. For example, The Immigration and Nationality Act currently does not include any protections for discrimination based on religious affiliation. Finally, there also needs to be harsher consequences to deter certain political organisations and individuals who provoke hate crimes against American Muslims. 

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