Removing the stigma around mental health is a universal struggle faced by all communities.
But for minorities, the struggle can often be more pronounced — and barriers to access to be more difficult to transcend.
The 29-year-old suspect in Sunday night’s Danforth shooting was identified as Faisal Hussain by authorities Monday.
While law enforcement are still determining a motive for the shooting, a statement released by his family explained that he had struggled with mental health illnesses such as depression and psychosis.
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“The interventions of professionals were unsuccessful,” the statement read.
“Medications and therapy were unable to treat him. While we did our best to seek help for him throughout his life of struggle and pain, we could never imagine that this would be his devastating and destructive end.”
A police source told Global News that Hussain had previously been apprehended by Toronto police twice under the mental health act.
While the Hussain family said they sought help, many in the Muslim community face barriers when seeking treatment.
Mississauga, Ont.-based imam Ibrahim Hindy explained to Global News that like any community, Muslims also face unique challenges to accessing mental health assistance. Part of that is the stigma involved.
“Previous generations looked at mental health as being a weakness in faith, that if you just are more devout and worship more that’s going to heal you magically,” Hindy said.
While Hindy said that is changing, there is still more awareness needed about how faith and mental-health care can work together.
“There are studies that show people who are faithful or spiritual, as part of a larger strategy toward health and healing, that it is beneficial. But it needs to be part of a larger strategy.” he said.
“You can’t go to the excess of thinking that just being devout or religious is going to solve all your problems, but certainly, it does help.”
Hindy highlighted that taking care of health — both mental and physical — is actually part of Islam.
“If God has given you remedies and you’re not seeking them, that is what’s blameworthy,” he said, adding there is no “shame” in seeking help.
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A similar message was echoed by the Canadian Council of Imams in a statement Monday evening, reiterating the importance of mental health treatment.
“While we await the full investigation by the Toronto Police, this is certainly a cause for all us to make mental health a priority in our communities to help avoid all terrible tragedies like this from ever happening again,” the statement read.
“We all on our membership and places of worship to dedicate programs and funds to benefit the victims of this tragedy and mental health initiatives.”
Among those trying to make help more accessible is Toronto-based organization Naseeha Muslim Youth Helpline, which offers free and anonymous counselling over the phone.
Huma Saeedi, who works with the organization, explained that even with the changing dialogue, there are still barriers beyond stigma.
For starters, Saeedi said many Muslims are first or second generation Canadians and come from countries where mental health may not be discussed at all.
“In terms of accessing services, a lot of minority communities feel more comfortable if they are able to access culturally sensitive services, and that’s something that’s been lacking,” she added.
Counselling services, for example, are more difficult to find in languages other than English. Then, there are the high costs that many Canadians in general can’t afford.
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Those are some issues Naseeha tries to tackle through its helpline, which is open in the evenings and available to anyone who calls.
“What makes us different is that we do have the added layer of culturally sensitive resources, we get where minority communities are coming from — whether it be disagreements with your parents or just trying to fit in,” Saeedi said.
Beyond that, the organization also does workshops and educational events in mosques to raise awareness about mental health. And Saeedi says there is a willingness to learn.
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“It’s not necessarily us knocking on their door, it’s them knocking on our door, which I think is important. Mosques are realizing that there are people that are struggling.”
And working together is part of the solution, Dr. Gursharan K. Virdee, a psychologist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, told Global News.
Faith leaders, community organizations, health-care professionals and media can all play a part, she said, cautioning against blaming one group or institution for gaps in care. Virdee explained that can “perpetuate marginalization” of minorities such as Muslims.
Rather, Virdee said it’s important to focus on the “shared responsibility” of improving health care.