Exploring the influence of Islam on the perceptions of mental illness of volunteers in a Johannesburg community-based organization.

Khan, Sumayyah
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The understanding of mental illness is not universal. The way certain conditions are labeled in different settings, and how they are expressed in different cultures, need to be taken into consideration (Swartz, 2002). Current understandings of mental illness are rooted in Western paradigms and fail to incorporate indigenous understanding (Swartz, 2002). It is also argued that religion may play an imperative role in persistent and potentially effective methods of coping for people with mental illness (Tepper, Rogers, Coleman, & Malony, 2001). Stigma is also believed to play an intrinsic role in the perceptions that people within small communities have regarding mental illness as a whole (Mason, Carlisle, Watkins, & Whitehead, 2001). It is possible that the stigma associated with mental illness and towards those suffering from a mental illness may hinder the course of treatment. Thus this research aims to investigate the perceptions of mental illness in a sample of volunteer counselors, from a specific Johannesburg Muslim community, who volunteer their services at the Islamic Careline. Structured interviews were conducted with 8 counsellors to determine their understanding of mental illness and to establish the role played by the religion of Islam, if any, on the perceptions of mental illness. In addition, whether or not stigma exists within this community and what affects it may, or may not, have on the understanding and treatment of mental illness was explored. Responses were analysed using thematic content analysis. The findings of this study suggest that one’s religious and cultural beliefs play an imperative role in an individual’s perception of mental illness. It is also suggested that the values and beliefs held by a specific community may influence an individual’s choice of treatment for a mental illness. Furthermore, it is suggested that the existence of stigma within this community towards people with mental illnesses, may also play a role in an individual’s perception of mental illness and the route they choose with regards to treatment.