Ottawa Muslims tackle 'taboo' of mental illness

Mona Ghadban has suffered from anxiety and depression for years.

But the Carleton University student found there wasn't much support available from the local Muslim community. "And even if there is, [mental illness] is heavily criticized and it's a taboo," Ghadban said.

She believed she had nowhere else to turn because of that stigma.

"Information is supposed to stay within the family and it's difficult to share any feelings of turmoil with your family because they have a biased opinion," Ghadban said.

Ghadban eventually saw a counsellor to help her cope, but other members of Ottawa's Islamic community suffer in silence.

Suicides prompt action

After two local Muslim men took their lives a couple of years ago, a group including mental health workers and community advocates decided to address the issue.

"There is a lack of discussion and conversation around mental health within the Muslim community, whether it's violence against women, whether it's abuse in the home, whether it's drugs, alcohol, unhealthy relationships, suicide," said Berak Hussain, a counsellor at Carleton University.

The group organized monthly meetings for local Muslims to tackle those topics in an open, honest way.

Mental health conference planned

Later this month the group will hold the Serenity Islamic Mental Health Awareness Conference at Carleton University, with plans to make it an annual event.

Hussain said she hopes the conference will help reach those who feel a sense of shame around mental health issues.

She said the goal is to destigmatize the issue and use their faith to reach out to those in need of help instead of silencing them.

"It is part of the faith in terms of self-actualization, self-healing," Hussain said.