Research Snapshot: Reducing addiction related stigma in Muslim communities

Reducing addiction related stigma in Muslim communities through a spiritually adapted outreach program

What you need to know

Muslims make up more than 3% of the Canadian population. While rates of addictions in this group are significantly lower than other groups, rates increase when Muslims live in Western countries. Muslims in Canada tend to use mental health services less than other groups do. Negative attitudes and misconceptions often keep them from seeking treatment for addiction. Some seek traditional healing or counselling from spiritual/religious leaders, who often don’t have mental health training. Researchers evaluated the impact of a new, spiritually-adapted, 90-minute seminar about addictions for adult Muslims, offered in a mosque setting. The seminar increased participants’ understanding of addictions. It also increased positive attitudes towards people with addictions and willingness to seek help for addiction.

 

This Research Snapshot is based on the article, “Inspiring Muslim Minds: Evaluating a spiritually adapted psycho‑educational program on addiction to overcome stigma in Canadian Muslim communities” published in Community Mental Health Journal in 2021. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10597-020-00699-0

Research Snapshots are brief, clear language summaries of research articles, presented in a user-friendly format.

What is this research about?

There are more than one million Muslims in Canada, which is more than 3% of the country’s population. While rates of addictions are significantly lower compared to other groups, rates increase when Muslims live in Western countries.

Muslims in Canada tend to use mental health services less than other groups. Negative attitudes and misconceptions are common barriers to seeking treatment.

Many Muslims believe addiction is a private or shameful matter. Some have mistaken beliefs about addiction or may not know about available services and treatments. Some who need treatment seek traditional healing or counselling from religious leaders, who often don’t have mental health training.

What did the researchers do?

Researchers evaluated the impact of a new, spiritually adapted, 90-minute seminar about addictions for adult Muslims, offered in a mosque. The seminar combined Islamic teachings with scientific evidence on addiction.

The scientific information was based on an information guide about addiction and was simplified and reviewed by two psychiatrists. The final presentation can be found at www.muslimmentalhealth.ca.

Participants completed questionnaires before and after the sessions. They evaluated their knowledge of mental health and addictions, attitudes towards seeking help from a professional, and willingness to seek help.

What did the researchers find?

Ninety-three participants took part in the seminars. They had diverse ethnicities (38% South Asian, 27% African and 18% Middle Eastern) and eight out of 10 had a college or university degree.

Participants had a significant increase in their understanding of addictions after the seminars. Positive attitudes towards people with addictions also increased significantly and social stigma decreased significantly.

Older participants and those who were not employed did not experience the same reduction in stigma towards addictions.

Three main themes emerged regarding the knowledge gains:

  • Integrating Islamic content enhanced participants’ understanding of addictions.
  • The seminar corrected several misconceptions about addiction, such as the lethal impact of substance withdrawal.
  • Participants wanted to continue learning about mental health and wanted more seminars to expand their understanding of addictions.

Two main themes came out of the written responses:

  • Integrating Islamic context increased empathy, compassion and willingness to help, and discouraged judgment of people with addictions.
  • Holding the seminar in the mosque helped raise awareness and improved community safety, support and resilience.

Participants also showed an increase in their willingness to seek help for addiction. Several main themes emerged in this area:

  • Some participants said the seminar reduced their shame in seeking both medical help and religious services for problems with addictions.
  • Some participants said they were more willing to support friends, family and members of their community in getting help for their addictions.
  • Several participants identified barriers to accessing addiction services. In particular, they noted stigma from members of one’s family or community as well as from health professionals. In contrast, they reported that they are more willing to seek help if the health professional understand their culture.
  • Despite these barriers, most participants said the seminar helped reduce stigma and created a safe space to discuss addiction within the Muslim community.

Limitations of the research

The researchers noted that the short answer and written questionnaires did not allow for collection of in-depth information. They also pointed out the need to have follow-up testing to assess the long-term impact of the seminars. They suggested that engaging mosque congregants in shaping the seminars would help increase their effectiveness.

How can you use this research?

This research is useful to anyone wishing to develop educational sessions on mental illness and addictions for various cultural or religious groups.

About the researchers

Ahmed N. Hassan,1,2,3 Heba Ragheb,4 Arfeen Malick,4 Zainib Abdullah,5 Yusra Ahmad,2,6 Nadiya Sunderji,2,7 Farah Islam8

  1. Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, Toronto, Ontario
  2. Department of Psychiatry, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario
  3. Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology, University of Toronto
  4. University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario
  5. Toronto Western Hospital, Toronto, Ontario
  6. Women’s College Hospital and University Health Network, Toronto, Ontario
  7. Waypoint Centre for Mental Health Care, Penetanguishene, Ontario
  8. Emmanuel College, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario