A former CAIR-SFBA intern discusses the work of the Stanford Muslim Mental Health Lab and its contributions to the Muslim community

Aneeqa Abid navigates her profession as a mental health researcher while empowering Muslims with the tools of their own religion.

A former CAIR-SFBA intern, Aneeqa now works at the Stanford Muslim Mental Health Lab (SMMHL), an initiative dedicated to conducting mental health research through an Islamic lens. The lab provides trainings and creates resources specific to Muslims in an effort to build an understanding of Muslim mental health and Islamic psychology.

Aneeqa was particularly inspired by SMMHL’s Director Dr. Awaad, who uses the study of medicine and psychiatry as a way to create a meaningful impact for Muslims at the individual and community levels. Aneeqa appreciates the approach of Dr. Awaad’s team: helping Muslims by integrating Islam into the psychotherapy process.

“This is the literal definition of helping people. You’re helping them with holistic health, rather than one aspect of their health, when you think of mental and spiritual health.”

Historical Lane

“I learned about the rich history of Muslim contributions in the field of psychology that I had no idea about…”

Aneeqa Abid began her journey with the Stanford Muslim Mental Health Lab through research focused on Islam’s history and contributions to psychology. Dedicated to tracing the history of mental health and treatments in Muslim civilizations, the Lab’s “Historical Lane” led to co-authoring one of the chapters of the book Applying Islamic Principles to Clinical Mental Health Care. The chapter Aneeqa worked on was called, “Islamic Psychology: A Portrait of its Historical Origins & Contributions.” Through this effort, Aneeqa assisted in creating literature that highlights the contributions between 622-1492 CE, a period of Islamic history when there was great value placed on scientific production, when the first-ever psychiatric hospitals were created. There was an emphasis on caring for mental health because taking care of your mental health is a requirement in Islam.

“I was learning about all of these amazing things Muslims did, including Zaid al-Balkhi discovering and diagnosing OCD and coming up with a classification system for OCD that matched almost exactly with the description of the DSM-5 today.”

Aneeqa highlights that psychiatric hospitals were established in the middle of cities rather than outskirts (which was the case in Europe) in order to recognize the importance of visiting ill family and community members, an injunction in Islam. Zaid-al Balkhi’s literature discusses common reasons people are reluctant to seek psychological help, which are rooted in misconceptions related to mental health. For example, many individuals may believe that mental health struggles may be a sign of weak faith. The work of SMMHL continues to combat these misconceptions today.

By tracing the important contributions of Muslim civilizations in the field of mental health, the Lab hopes to destigmatize conversations about mental health.

Suicide Prevention Resources for the Muslim Community

“As Allah says, to save a life is to save all of humanity, so this is a crucial reason why we need to care about suicide prevention.”

In addition to investigating the past, SMMHL conducts research and creates community resources to address mental health issues facing the Muslim community. The Lab is in the process of creating the first comprehensive training manual on suicide prevention and postvention for the Muslim community. Using a faith-based approach, the Lab developed training sessions, workshops, and healing circles to address how to prevent–as well as heal from–suicidal behavior. Aneeqa shares that the research and resources of the SMMH Lab have received a tremendous amount of positive feedback for providing specialized training and research in an area that is often overlooked in Muslim communities, especially from Muslim family members and communities that have been affected by suicide across the nation.

“The point is we need to be merciful. And this aspect of our religion–being kind to one another, helping one another, and saving lives– that is what the suicide prevention and postvention manual  is all about.”

Ongoing Research: Muslim Student Mental Health

Inspired by the work of the Stanford Muslim Mental Health Lab and Dr. Rania Awaad, Aneeqa is involved in research for Muslim college students at Stanford University. This initiative was inspired by a similar initiative at UC Berkeley for Muslim student mental health. The goal of the study is to investigate whether current Stanford campus resources are meeting Muslim students’ psychological needs. This research of the Stanford Muslim Mental Health Initiative is also in response to rampant Islamophobia impacting the mental health of young Muslim students, and can be neglected in existing campus psychological resources.

As the Lab continues to grow, it is important to use, share, and understand the value of these resources created for our community by our community. By visiting the Stanford Muslim Mental Health Lab website, you can learn more about current and future studies, attend workshops, and share materials. It is important to recognize the resources and contributions of the SMMHL to destigmatize mental health challenges and advance the conversations about Muslim mental health. This discussion has been long overdue, but hopefully a topic we can address together as a community.

To contact the Stanford Muslim Mental Health Lab, please reach out to muslimsmhlab@stanford.edu or visit the Lab’s website for additional information.

This article was written by Yasmeen Abed based on an interview with Aneeqa Abid.

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(1/27/2021)