Unveiling the stigma: Australian South Asian Muslim views on mental illness




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Peer reviewed


Little is known about the impacts of migration, adjustment, and acculturation on mental health, particularly amongst South Asian Muslim diasporic and post-diasporic youth. Though they may encounter mental health challenges, it is unknown how they frame these conditions - to what extent are their views influenced by traditional cultural or secular bio-medical attitudes towards mental illnesses? Notions of stigma, shame, and honour are considered strong reasons for the under-representation of South Asian in mental health services. This exploratory study investigated how South Asian Ismaili Muslim youth in Australia perceive concepts surrounding mental health and mental illness. A mixed-methods design, involving questionnaires and semi-structured interviews, was employed to compare the views of those youth born in Australia with youth recently migrated. Respondents’ definitions of mental health were often found to be conflated with mental illness or intellectual disabilities, although Australian-born respondents were more likely to acknowledge the nature-nurture debate. Whilst Australian-born youth were more likely to recognize various mental illnesses, there was no significant difference in both groups’ recognition of stress, anxiety, and depression. Although recent immigrants were more likely to say supernatural powers had an impact on mental illness, all respondents believed mental illnesses were treatable. Both groups were equally likely to have heard about mental health issues from a variety of sources and indicated they would turn to mental health professionals for assistance, although Australian-born youth were more likely to turn to their families. Unlike the literature, results suggest that while youth may not recognize mental illnesses, particularly immigrants, they know where to go and are willing to use Ismaili community services for mental health issues assuming concerns of trust and confidentiality are met. Youth also indicated a need for increased awareness of mental health issues, tied in with discussion of contemporary issues faced by Australian Ismaili youth.



Australia, South Asian, Muslim, Ismaili, mental health, acculturation, migration, psychology, mixed-methods


Mitha, K. (2012) Unveiling the stigma: Australian South Asian Muslim views on mental illness. Postgraduate Conference on the Study of Islam and Muslims, Al-Maktoum College of Higher Education, May 2012, Dundee, Scotland, UK


Research Institute