Mental Health Focus of Monthly Meetings at Dar Al-Hijrah

Community News
A beautiful new house next to the masjid for her family of four with a large yard, which  she had planned to plant with hydrangeas. Everything seems perfect, but Sheila* is afraid to step out of her living room; slowly she has slipped into depression, wary of the neighbors. They leave trash bags on her front lawn, a Christmas wreath on her front door, and watch her from a window that overlooks her backyard.

A recent immigrant, she is away from the safety net of family and friends. Her husband doesn’t understand why she can’t get over her fear, why she feels like she is being constantly watched, helpless, a prisoner in her own home. She is always sleepy and edgy. He has strictly told her not to confront the two women who live next to them. “I think they work for a federal agency,” she says. Desperate for help she attends the new mental health session at her local masjid, Dar Al Hijrah. She wants to know what should one do from a Muslim perspective, when one doesn’t want to take heavy medications from the fear of side effects.

A tragedy on June 25, 2013 in Chantilly where one mentally ill brother stabbed his brother to death and then shot himself rocked the NoVA Muslim community as a family lost and buried two sons. The Mental Health Awareness sessions at Dar Al-Hijrah were scheduled to start that same weekend.

The new monthly sessions at DAH, sponsored by Oasis Healthcare, promote mental wellness and provide education about mental illness to the community-at-large.

At the first session Sandra Amen-Bryant and Mogitha AlKibsi, licensed therapists, actively engage the community through an educational presentation on depression and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) occurs after a severe trauma has occurred in a person’s life. The trauma may be a recent event, such as a car accident, an injury, the sudden traumatic death of a loved one, or combat, or it may be historical, such as an adult who was abused as a child or a person who was raped years before, who begins having memories of flashbacks of their experience. When people experience a trauma, it can place them at risk for PTSD. Some people experience trauma and never develop post traumatic stress disorder, while other individuals experience a trauma and begin having symptoms of PTSD immediately.

AlKibsi says she, as a mental health professional, advocates for therapy with medication and natural supplements, as well as adhkar from the Quran and Sunnah. “How functional are you at home? If you are not able to pray or can not take care of your children then your higher level of function may outweigh the side effects of medication,” she recommends.

“The brain is an organ just like the heart and can get a disorder, there is nothing to be ashamed of that you have mental disorder,” stresses AlKibsi.

The availability of culturally and linguistically relevant help is emphasized in the forum.

Amen-Bryan, like AlKibisi has worked in mental health for more than 20 years, she has dealt with many, specifically in the Arab American community.  They both are bicultural counselors and prescribe prayers and seeking the support of a community at a place of worship to their patients, depending on their needs. “People need the support of their religious institutions and have social interactions in their lives to feel like complete human beings,” says Amen-Bryan.

Our moods fluctuate, as do our stress levels; our bodies are also in a state of flux. These factors will dictate what our mood will be like throughout the day. How we handle these daily changes determines how easily we can fall into depression.

Depression is a medical illness that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest. Depression can cause physical symptoms, too.

Causes of depression can include adolescence and old age, decline in health. Loss of a family member- infertility can be a continuing form of loss, especially loss of hope. Health problems, divorce, relocation, death of a pet, giving birth are all causes of depression, as are decline in career, unemployment, a job change. “We all someone know who is experiencing financial problems; we can all negotiate life when we have the income to do it,” comments Amen-Bryan.

Loss of interest, negative feelings about self and other people, difficulty making decisions. difficulty concentrating, feeling guilty, constant worrying, baseless fears, anger especially amongst men and teenagers. irritability, feeling of emptiness, and loss of energy are all symptoms.

Digestive problems that don’t get better over time may be a symptom of depression, such as  heartburn, constipation, no appetite, too much appetite, not ever having a good feeling ever inside your stomach. Depressed people often start avoiding people.

Low level depression is a mild condition and can last on the average of two years- people tend to be overly critical, incapable of having fun, and are constantly complaining. “Don’t self-diagnose, come and see a therapist,” suggests Amen-Bryan.  She explains how low level depression can change into major depression if the person has a major stressful event in their life.

Questions come from the audience about re-living fears after natural disasters. AlKibsi answers that the impact of such an event may dissipate, for some and not for others; symptoms may be short lived for some and easy to get rid of as time passes.

50-70 percent of Americans have experienced trauma. American Muslims, especially immigrants have a much higher percentage according to AlKibsi.”I think we have seen war, hunger, lack of education and are more susceptible to trauma,” she says. “Coming from Yemen where I was exposed to war and revolutions, after September 11th I felt like crying all the time,” she shares with the audience.  “Most of us from the Middle East come with a lot of issues, I believe we have higher rates of PTSD and anxiety.”

Amen-Bryan and AlKibsi spoke with Sheila and gave her several resources, including names of bicultural therapists in the area as well as civil rights organizations such as CAIR.

Name changed for privacy*