Category Archives: Psychiatry

Mental Health & Jinn Possession Amongst Muslims

Tales of jinn posession are never far from where Muslims are concerned. We all know of at least a few people who have either had an encounter with a jinn themselves, or know of someone (a friend of a friends aunty) who has been overcome by a jinn. More people are readily more comfortable to propose jinn posession as opposed to having mental health problems, with many being masked as a result. We may never know the “true” number of cases where mental illness if the cause of their ill health -not pseudo jinn/spirit possession. This alternates readily between jinn possession and black magic – both of which frankly largely mirror one another anyway.

Often when the term “mental illness” is used a picture of a ravaged person, withwild eyes, laughing manicly with the tendency to become violent is conjured up. Much of this owes to stereotyping of the media of what a mentally ill individual looks like – give them an axe and let them wield it about a bit: the image is complete! Pandering to these images does nothing but further distort and villify those who have mental health problems which range from depression, anxiety to the other end of the spectrum of schizophrenia and psychosis.

A factor of interest with regards to this issue is that mental health problems may be seen as something which the individual is being “punished” with or that he/she is deserving of it in recompense for some ill doing. Jinn possession doesn’t carry this baggage – it is often seen as being outwith the control of the individual who falls circumspect to it. There is a plethora of research which points to “it being a test”, “I’m being punished for sinning” type attributions to their mental health problems which in turn leads to short bursts of religuous fervour. This can result in “burn out” due to the desperate state in which some individual being to absorb themselves into prayers and other faith based solutions in the hope of “becoming better” quicker.

Some faith healers are understood to provide a service though one wonders how shoddy some of these services truly are (one only needs to flip through any ethnic newspaper and faith healer advert’s hit you square in the face with their claims of resolving anything from sexual impotency to acquiring unrequited love).

On the other hand, some psychiatrists aren’t immune from making blunders due to their lack of “people skills”, unwilling to have a dialogue with the patient instead choosing to talk “at” them rather than discussing their care plan and the inherent imbalance of power which exists in the doctor/patient dyad.

Many studies over the years point to this phenomenon of ethnic groups to disregard mental illness as a factor of their poor health. They will resort to traditional healers to alleviate their ailments. That is not to say that religion is obsolete when it comes to recovery or dealing with mental illness – but there draws a fine line between dual treatment options (traditional healing such as recitation of Quran and other religious methods and the use of medication) and denial of the existence of mental ill health altogether.

This is partly due to disillusion with the Eurocentric model of psychiatry where little scope or acceptance of anything which falls beyond the comfortable niches of the Western notions of x symptoms = y diagnosis exists. Most of this directly related to the proponents of models – predominantely white middle class men from the West.This is readily being acknowledged and accepted as a contributory factor in the stoical stance some psychiatrists take towards other “models” of mental ill health – including those from an Eastern outlook.

Due to the expanding field of cross cultural psychiatry, slowly things are shifting. Recently a conference on the topic of Spirit Posession and Mental Health was held in London and much was discussed about various cultures and their understanding of mental health, their attributions to it and their approaches to treatment which ranged from indulging in religion/faith seeking behaviours (such as prayers) to seeking out a combination of medical treatment and faith based healing. There is a ready admittance of the Eurocentricity of psychiatry, and a more willing approach to engaging in dialogue with faith healers, religious leaders and even the patient him/herself as to their viewpoint on the mental health problem. However, this approach boils down largely  to the individual psychiatrist and team members rather than an overall approach by the MH sector.

What is the incidence of mental health problems (from depression right through to enduring MI such as schizophrenia) amongst Muslims in the UK? We’ll probably never know for sure, and hazarding a guess as to the numbers in the Muslim world is even more of a mystery – although it is often proposed that mental illness (the incidences) is largely an issue faced by people overwhelmingly in the West compared to the East (possibly due to myriad of reasons: detection of MI in the East compared to the West, the support network available to individuals in the East compared to the West etc)

We would do well to move away from the belief of jinn possession as a factor in someone’s poor health as the likelihood of their behaviour being as it is, their physical deterioration, withdrawal is more down to mental health issues rather than a jinn occupation and/or black magic. Rational thinking is needed here, not mere hysteria.

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