One of the biggest barriers to accessing mental health services? For many Americans, it’s stigma.
Discrimination from family, friends and coworkers can prevent individuals from improving their quality of life and getting the help they need.
For Muslims in the United States, social and public stigma are often amplified. Outside of the Muslim community, some may view those seeking mental health services as a threat. Inside the community, some may ask, “Why don’t you just pray?”
It’s a complex issue, and one that Ahmet Tanhan, who earned his PhD from UNCG’s Department of Counseling and Educational Development this May, spent the past three years investigating.
A Kurd from Turkey, Tanhan moved to the United States in 2012 for graduate school thanks to a prestigious scholarship from the government in Turkey. In 2014, UNCG awarded him a full scholarship to continue his studies as a PhD student.
Tanhan’s research on the Muslim community hits close to home.
“As a Muslim in the United States, you have a huge load on your shoulder. If you have a Muslim name or if you’re wearing a hijab, you’re more susceptible to external stressors that other populations may not have.”
Despite these challenges, the Muslim community underutilizes mental health services.
As part of his dissertation, Tanhan surveyed 209 Muslim adults in the Southeastern U.S. to investigate how Muslims approach mental health issues and formal mental health services.
A key takeaway? While most participants scored high in their understanding of mental health issues from a biomedical perspective, they also indicated that cultural beliefs are very important in terms of how they view mental health services. Tanhan also found that public stigma was high.
“For example, some Muslims may say that mental health issues are the result of not practicing one’s faith,” Tanhan explained. “If mental health providers want to best serve the Muslim community, they need to consider these cultural beliefs. Similarly, if key leaders in the Muslim community want to serve more effectively, they need to have a better understanding of mental health services.”
In addition to his research, Tanhan helped found UNCG’s Research Association of Muslims, or RAM. The student organization utilizes research to create an inclusive environment and meaningful experience for Muslims and all students at UNCG.
This summer, Tanhan will move back to Turkey to teach and practice counseling. He will continue to work with RAM, and hopes that the organization will serve as a model for other campuses across North Carolina and beyond. Additionally, he plans to invite UNCG faculty to Turkey for research and collaboration.
“I cannot express my appreciation for all of my professors, especially those in the counseling department,” he said. “I feel well prepared to start my career and continue to learn more about research and practice.”
Story by Alyssa Bedrosian, University Communications
Photography and videography by Martin W. Kane, University Communications