By Sean O’Malley
A first-of-its-kind addiction awareness outreach program that took place inside mosques significantly reduced stigma surrounding substance use disorder among Canadian Muslims. This, according to a new study, “Inspiring Muslim Minds: Evaluating a spiritually adapted psycho-educational program on addiction to overcome stigma in Canadian Muslim communities,” recently published in the Community Mental Health Journal.
Previous research has indicated that Muslims living in majority Western cultures are more likely to have addiction issues than those in Muslim majority populations. Furthermore, Muslim Canadians are less likely to access mental health services than the general population.
According to study lead author CAMH psychiatrist Dr. Ahmed Hassan, there are several reasons why addiction stigma is so prevalent in Muslim communities, including:
- Misconceptions or limited awareness about mental health services.
- Fears that treatment will be disclosed to employers.
- Beliefs that addiction is shameful and should not be discussed outside of families.
- Seeing addiction through a religious lens as a sin.
“I have found from my personal experience as a physician treating Muslim patients where some will say ‘I’m a bad Muslim,’” said Dr. Hassan. “Some wonder if something is wrong with their relationship to God, or if something is wrong with their character. That is what we are trying to normalize with this program—making addiction less stigmatizing by dealing with it like any other medical treatment.”
As part of the program, a 90-minute seminar on evidence-based addiction treatment was presented inside nine Toronto-area mosques, usually after Friday prayers. While the participating Imams were enthusiastic about bringing the seminar to their mosques, the topic was considered so stigmatizing that the participants were not told in advance what the subject matter would be.
The subsequent outreach program evaluation indicates a significant reduction in stigma among the Muslims who took part:
- Almost half of participants (47 per cent) expressed interest in learning more about addiction science.
- Nearly two-thirds (63 per cent) said they felt more motivated to help family or friends dealing with substance use disorder.
While fewer than one in five participants (18 per cent) said they would be likely to reach out for addiction services in the future if the need arose, Dr. Hassan believes that more ambitious direct outreach to Muslim communities could further reduce the stigma surrounding substance use disorder treatment, especially with older Muslims, who were less receptive to new ways of thinking about addiction than the younger cohorts who attended the seminars.
“Reaction to the seminar was very positive,” said Mohsin Syed, manager of a downtown Toronto mosque that participated in the study. “It really helped reduce stigma and many participants expressed a desire afterwards to learn more about options for addiction treatment.”
CAMH is working to place diversity, equity and inclusion at the centre of its work, including by supporting research that responds to the holistic needs of patients and adapting clinical care to incorporate a diversity of religious and cultural backgrounds. For example, through the pioneering work of CAMH scientists like Dr. Kwame Mckenzie and Dr. Farooq Naeem, CAMH is now an international leader in culturally-adapted cognitive behavioural therapy. CAMH also has mental health programs available to racialized communities, including the Substance Abuse Program for African Canadian and Caribbean Youth (SAPACCY).
Regarding his Muslim-centric addiction awareness outreach program, Dr. Hassan added: “We are not going to completely break the stigma with a few seminars, but we were very grateful to have some of the participants come up to us after the seminar and ask us privately about access to resources. And we were amazed at how receptive the Imams were. One of them has since referred some of their followers to CAMH.”
And that is certainly an encouraging sign.