ISNA Canada held a seminar titled ‘Community Approach to Mental Health’ on Sunday, October 18, 2015. The seminar was open to both Muslims and non-Muslims and aimed to educate the community on how to deal with mental health issues. It is extremely vital for us as a community to have these conversations in order to ensure we take care of ourselves mind, body, and soul.
Speakers included many distinguished psychiatrists and psychologists, a clinical counsellor, an administrator, and a scholar of Islamic shari’ah. By having a diverse panel, this seminar provided a holistic approach to mental health issues rather than focusing solely on a clinical or spiritual/religious perspective.
Dr. Khalid Sohail MBBS FRCP (Canada)’s session topic was ‘Green Zone Living is Peaceful Living: Focus on Mental Health Education’. He talked about the three zones of human emotions: green, yellow, and red. When we are a little upset and frustrated, we are in our Yellow Zone, and when we get angry and lose control we are in our Red Zone. Green Zone Living helps us spend more time in our peaceful Green Zone and create Green Zone relationships so that we can live a healthy, happy and peaceful Green Zone Lifestyle.
Dr. Saadia Ahmad, Ph. D., C. Psych, spoke on the topic of ‘Mental Health Challenges Faced by Muslims in North America: Lessons Learned from our Brothers and Sisters’. This session focused on how to maintain mental health by fostering basic psychological needs including sustaining physical health, enjoying a sense of safety, participating as a member of family and community, and developing a sense of unique value in one’s life. Without insight and education from lessons learned, individuals at-risk for serious mental illness may suffer from severe and tragic challenges as they struggle to meet their needs within their unique ecology. Clinical examples were presented including those of Muslims living in North America who have faced severe and tragic mental health challenges.
Rashaad Vahed, Vice-President, Children’s Mental Health, spoke on ‘Accessing Valuable Services for Your Children’. In this session, Rashaad highlighted questions that parents will at some point ask about their children, such as: Is my child’s language skill developing well enough for their age? When should I be worried about their expression of emotions or mood shifts? How can I support their social development with friends and family? What can I do when my child gets stuck in problem behaviours or ways of thinking? To help answer these questions, Rashaad shared experiences gained from several leading children’s mental health agencies and provided relevant resources and services available to parents.
Dr. Arif Syed, Psychiatrist, spoke on ‘Major Psychiatric Conditions and Their Medical Treatments’. This session highlighted that many psychiatric conditions have been present for centuries, but their awareness has recently grown due to many prevalent conditions. Dr. Arif touched upon the definitions of the major diagnose-able illnesses in psychiatry including: major depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and various anxiety disorders. He also outlined different treatments available for these disorders.
Dr. Farah Islam spoke on ‘Mental Health Concerns and Mental Health Service Access Barriers’. This session focused on how young Muslims in Canada today struggle with mental health and face barriers when trying to seek mental health care. Youth living in Peel Region were interviewed to understand the particular challenges faced by Muslim youth in that region. They cited many mental health stressors, from intergenerational and cultural conflict to academic pressure to relationship and financial stress, and family difficulties. These stressors can contribute to mental health challenges, such as depression, anxiety, drug use with marijuana, alcohol, and cigarette use. Those interviewed were able to identify about a third (36%) of the mental health resources presented to them and did not feel well-informed about mental health resources available in their neighbourhood. The presentation highlighted youth voices, key issues, and made recommendations.
Shahnaz Ahmed, MSW, RSW (Clinical Social Worker), spoke on ‘Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT): Practical Solutions to Day-to-Day’. This session focused on what CBT is: a therapeutic approach that uses a combination of cognitive and behavioural therapy. CBT addresses practical self-help strategies which are based on the assumption that the way people behave is grounded in the way people think. CBT provides a flexible set of clinical tools which include cognitive restructuring, social skills training, relaxation training, problem-solving skills, and self-help manuals. The presentation provided a general overview of the practical application of cognitive and behavioural strategies with emphasis on the application of the problem-solving strategies shown to be effective for a wide range of personal, emotional, and family issues.
Sh. Abdalla Idris Ali, ISNA Canada Executive Director and well known Islamic Scholar, spoke on ‘Islamic Perspectives on Community Mental Health Issues and Remedies’. He introduced examples of some pioneering work by prominent Muslim psychologists, particularly, Dr. Malik Badri. His writings related to the role of spirituality in psychological well-being in his famous book titled Contemplation: An Islamic Psycho-Spiritual Perspective. Shaykh Abdalla pointed out that seeking help for mental health problems is very much within the framework of Islamic Shari’ah.
In addition to the presentations, a slot of time was set aside for audience interaction through comments and questions. A special highlight of this event was one-on-one sessions between the audience and the professionals. Several tables were set aside for these sessions, well attended and well served.
ISNA Canada is committed to providing resources and services to assist those in our community who suffer from mental health issues. In addition to the first-ever Community Approach to Mental Health workshop, earlier this year, ISNA hired a fully licensed and practicing family counsellor as a free service to the community. Currently, we are setting up a registry of mental health professions, service providers and those needing the service.