American Muslims Are 2 Times More Likely To Have Attempted Suicide Than Other Groups

Of note. Wonder if there are compable studies for Canada:

For an entire year that involved emergency room visits, legal proceedings, involuntary unemployment and the death of loved ones, Mehran Nazir struggled with a depressive episode. He would find his mind flooded with self-destructive thoughts. He’d faintly hope his plane from Newark to San Francisco would crash or that he would doze off at the wheel of his car and end up in a fatal accident.

The normally extroverted Nazir would lie paralyzed in bed for hours doing nothing, not wanting to speak with family and canceling plans with friends.

It came to a head when Nazir found himself on the brink of suicide. In his darkest moment, he drafted a will and decided where it would happen.

Eventually, Nazir found comfort in journaling. And when he shared his writings online, he quickly found that other Muslims shared his struggles.

“I realized that this is not something that is unique in my history,” Nazir told NPR. “This was not a random occurrence.”

Nazir was right. U.S. Muslims are two times more likely to have attempted suicide compared with other religious groups, according to a study published last month in JAMA Psychiatry. Nearly 8% of Muslims in the survey reported a suicide attempt in their lifetime compared with 6% of Catholics, 5% of Protestants and 3.6% of Jewish respondents.

“Anecdotally and in clinical settings, we’re definitely seeing an uptick in suicides and suicide attempts,” Dr. Rania Awaad told NPR. She’s the director of the Muslim Mental Health & Islamic Psychology Lab at Stanford University and a researcher on the study.

At the heart of these numbers are several issues

Researchers attribute the high suicide attempt rate to two factors: religious discrimination and community stigma — both of which, they say, prevent Muslim American communities from seeking mental health services.

Earlier this year, a murder-suicide involving a Muslim family in Allen, Texas, sent shock waves through the community. Brothers Farhan Towhid, 19, and Tanvir Towhid, 21, both of whom reportedly battled depression, made a pact to die by suicide and kill the rest of their family so they wouldn’t have to live with the grief. Since then, public discussions on mental health, trainings on suicide response and healing circles have taken on new urgency.

“We have a very long way to go,” Awaad said. “There is just the beginning of a discussion that is happening now.”

There’s still a community stigma surrounding mental health

Naureen Ahmed, now 39, remembers how her family would visit her mother, Seema, at a psychiatric hospital. But the family never openly discussed why she was there.

Some days, Seema would sing along to Bollywood music at home wearing red lipstick. Other days, she’d walk around the house brandishing knives — or jump out of the car on the highway, threatening to kill herself.

Ahmed, a social butterfly at school, was hesitant to invite friends over because she never knew which side of her mother she would get that day.

It wasn’t until she was 25 that Ahmed finally learned why her mom acted that way: she had bipolar depression and schizoaffective disorder, her grandparents told her.

“It was difficult to say it out loud, this secret that I had held inside my entire life,” Ahmed told NPR.

Of the many factors that prevent families or individuals from seeking mental health treatment, stigma is “perhaps the most significant,” according to a 2013 study that looked at the cultural backgrounds of Muslims.

“If you believe that your mental illnesses will bring shame on you or your family, then you tend to stay silent about it,” said Dr. Farha Abbasi, founder of the Muslim Mental Health Conference. Through the conference, hosted by Michigan State University for 13 years, Abbasi hopes to destigmatize mental illness within the Muslim community using open dialogue.

After Ahmed’s mother died in 2012, she created SEEMA to support families like hers who are shamed by the stigma of mental illness, are isolated by their communities or are suffering alone.

SEEMA, launched in 2018, hosts support groups with licensed therapists at community centers and mosques and awareness workshops highlighting the importance of mental health and how to care for someone struggling with a mental illness.

“We need to have these conversations to destigmatize and bring awareness because people think that they’re alone,” Ahmed said.

Religious discrimination makes them more vulnerable

Abbasi, who has studied the impact of growing Islamophobia on Muslims’ mental health, says she was not surprised by the results of the Stanford study.

“Right now, the exposure to toxicity is making us more vulnerable,” Abbasi told NPR.

U.S. Muslims were more likely to report suicide attempts than those from Muslim-majority countries, according to the Stanford study. As a religious minority in the U.S., Muslims are highly vulnerable to religious discrimination, which is associated with depression, anxiety and paranoia.

According to 2020 polling from the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, 60% of Muslims reported personally experiencing religious discrimination. And the FBI’s latest hate crime statistics in 2019 suggest that, of the reported 1,715 victims of anti-religious hate crimes, 13.2% were victims of anti-Muslim bias.

“There’s just trauma over trauma over trauma,” Abbasi says. “The impact of growing Islamophobia, the violence that is being directed against Muslims, all that is having a huge impact on mental health.”

They sometimes find it hard to reconcile their feelings and their faith

Last November, 39-year-old Chicago investor Jessica Ali broke down after separating from her husband.

“I felt that I was unworthy and there was no reason for me to live,” she said. Ali, a mother of three, had attempted suicide for a third time. The first two were in 2008 and 2018. “I started believing that I was crazy, that I must be a bad Muslim.”

That was until she joined a Muslim support group. It was there that Ali, who was diagnosed with severe depression, first came to terms with her mental illness.

“It’s very likely that when you’re sitting at the masjid, somebody in your praying row has felt this way,” Ali told NPR.

Now, Ali takes medication and visits a therapist.

But unlike Ali, some Muslims may not get the help and support they need.

To help jump over these hurdles, Muslim mental health professionals across the country are providing more culturally appropriate and religiously sensitive resources for Muslims.

Culturally appropriate resources can help

Dr. Sameera Ahmed, executive director of The Family & Youth Institute, a Muslim nonprofit, developed a suicide prevention toolkit in 2017 that helps Muslim American families navigate suicide risks, intervention, assessment and prevention.

“There may be mental health providers available, but if an individual doesn’t trust the system, they’re not going to use it,” Ahmed told NPR. “We try to translate the research into culturally and religiously tailored mental health resources that are community informed and disseminated by Muslim American mental health professionals.”

In 2017, the Khalil Center, which offers Muslims faith-based mental health services, launched a hotline that provides a “safe and empathic space” for those in crisis situations. “There’s more awareness happening,” Khalil Center psychologist Dr. Fahad Khan told NPR. “We have seen a rise in those who are seeking services.”

Imams have an integral role in community mental health because Muslim Americans may be more willing to seek help from religious leaders. That’s why Awaad started a campaign to train 500 Muslim leaders on suicide response in their communities by 2022.

“A number of imams came forward and said, ‘We as the religious and community leaders of the Muslim community really need to step up to this discussion,’ ” Awaad said.

Dr. Heather Laird, founder of the Center for Muslim Mental Health and Islamic Psychology, found that Muslims were more likely to seek psychotherapy if it aligned with Islamic values. So she ignited a movement toward Islamic psychology. By Laird’s definition, Islamic psychology is the treatment of the mind and soul within an Islamic context.

As for Nazir, he uses a combination of therapy and journaling to tend to his psychological wounds.

“This battle for mental health is not necessarily you solve it, you cure it, you move on,” Nazir said. “For me, it’s an ongoing journey.”

Source: American Muslims Are 2 Times More Likely To Have Attempted Suicide Than Other Groups

Australia’s new suicide prevention advisor says culturally specific support ‘critical’

Of note (as is the case of mental health and other areas):

Christine Morgan has what some might think is an impossible task ahead of her.

She has been appointed as the country’s first national suicide prevention advisor as the government embarks on its ambitious “towards zero” target for suicide rates in Australia.

According to the latest data available, 3,128 people died by suicide in Australia in 2017, a figure Ms Morgan said is “far too high”.

“It is something that is sad beyond belief,” she told SBS News on Wednesday, following Health Minister Greg Hunt’s unveiling of a plan to fix Australia’s mental health system. The plan includes $114 million for eight adult mental health centres.

Ms Morgan, chief executive of the National Mental Health Commission, was appointed by Scott Morrison in July and is currently on a three-month tour of the country, listening to Australians from all walks of life about their experiences with self-harm and suicide.

It’s about what is driving people to a point where they feel they have lost hope,” she said. “And I’ve got to say, it’s not an easy answer.”

Cultural differences

When it comes to multicultural Australia, with more than a quarter of people in the country born overseas, Ms Morgan said the task can be “extraordinarily complex”.

“It’s not just about having a translator, in terms of specific words and language, it’s actually about translating concepts,” she said.

It’s not just about having a translator in terms of words, it’s actually about translating concepts.

“It’s understanding what may be culturally familiar to somebody, and when they are trying to communicate a thought, a feeling, a behaviour, and what that means through their cultural framework.

“The challenges with the current system are that it’s an expectation that they [culturally and linguistically diverse people] connect with the system – we have to turn that on its head.”

Rather, she said, support services need to actively reach out to minority communities, if they are going to be effective.

While no specific funding has yet been allocated for multicultural Australia, Ms Morgan confirmed she does see a need for targeted programs within culturally and linguistically diverse communities.

Indigenous Australians 

While the government spends nearly $5 billion a year on mental health services – including more than $500 million towards youth mental health and a suicide prevention plan – support specifically for Indigenous Australians is also a top priority for Ms Morgan in her new role, she said.

Rates of suicide among Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander people is more than double the national average, with rates among children even higher.

Indigenous children make up five per cent of Australia’s youth but account for 25 per cent of child suicides.

While travelling around the country, Ms Morgan said she visited a community where a teenager had recently died by suicide.

“It was raw, really raw, and the sense of helplessness that you have, I mean what do you say?” she said.

“The pain, the pain of those who are left behind, the pain of the family … It’s a palpable feeling and realising that when we lose someone to suicide it doesn’t just affect the person who has gone, but so many others.”

Personal drive

After a career in corporate law, Ms Morgan wanted to try something different. She became general manager of Wesley Mission, a charity supporting vulnerable Australians, including those who are homeless and experiencing mental health issues.

It was a turning point in her life.

She went on to spend a decade at eating disorder support organisation The Butterfly Foundation, a time she describes as “incredibly formative”.

“It taught me so much about listening to the voices of those going through it, and capturing that to translate not just the pain, but to inform what was needed to bring that issue to the table and come up with initiatives to address it,” she said.

“That now drives me.”

While she is still in the preliminary stages of her role, Ms Morgan said the way forward is to stop seeing suicide as just a mental health problem.

“This is about a whole of life experience.”

Homelessness, unemployment, chronic pain, and experiences of trauma, all contribute to suicide rates, she said, and those things need to be addressed.

“Let’s really take a good hard look at what are those societal factors, those social determinants –housing, education, experience of veterans, trauma – how can we start to bring those to the table and wrap them into our initiatives?”

“Maybe by doing that we can be more effective with driving towards fewer people dying by suicide.”

Challenge ahead

While she believes Australia has come a long way in the last decade when it comes to mental health, Ms Morgan says the nation has to do better.

“I think we still have very high levels of stigma around reaching out for health [support].”

“A lot is self-stigma, people saying ‘I can understand when it affects someone else, I can be empathetic when it affects someone else, but do I want to admit when it affects me?’”

Ms Morgan says Australia has “incredibly deep and rich” resources when it comes to support services, but “we need to harness that and continue to leverage that”.

She is expected to deliver an interim report by July 2020, with a final report and recommendations due the following December.

With a huge task at hand, she says the keyword in the government’s “towards zero” slogan, for now, is “towards”.

Source: Australia’s new suicide prevention advisor says culturally specific support ‘critical’

Douglas Todd: B.C. coroner fails to release suicide data for international students

Surprising that they are not releasing the data. In my experience, British Columbia is better than most in responding to ATIP requests:

International students in Canada and around the world are not only under pressure to achieve high grades. Many are increasingly expected to become permanent residents in their chosen country so they can eventually sponsor their parents and siblings as immigrants.

Given the intense expectations placed on many young students navigating existence in a foreign country, reports of suicide among them are rising in Canada, the U.S., Australia and Britain, their most sought-after destinations.

The China Daily newspaper recently ran a story headlined, ”Suicide stalking too many Chinese studying overseas,” which detailed a spate of suicides among the 330,000 Chinese students studying and working in the U.S.

The large newspaper, which many see as a guide to China’s government policy, urged public officials to find out why. Is it because of “fear of failing and disappointing their parents” or “the loneliness that comes with having to struggle on their own?”

After the suicide last year of Linhai Yu, a young Chinese foreign student in Richmond, China’s consul general for Vancouver also expressed worry about suicide among the 53,000 Chinese students in Metro Vancouver. “Incident rates among the group,” Xuan Zheng said, “have been quite high.”

The grim stories of foreign-student depression and suicide are pouring in from across Canada and the world. This fall, friends of an Indian student in Ontario blamed his self-inflicted death on Canada’s immigration department not granting him a work visa to stay longer. Similar stories from around the world show foreign students at higher risk of mental-health stress.

Given that B.C. has the most foreign students per capita in Canada — being home to more than 130,000 of the Canadian total of 500,000 — my senior editor suggested contacting the B.C. Coroners Service to put some numbers on how many international students have taken their lives.

We thought the information wouldn’t be difficult to determine, since the Coroners Service says it is a “fact-finding” agency responsible for investigating all “unnatural” and “sudden” deaths and making recommendations to “prevent death in similar circumstances.”

My first contact with the Service was in May. In the ensuing seven months, despite numerous communications, the service has failed to provide any information at all about suicide rates among international students. It has, however, offered a steady string of delays and excuses, mixed with large doses of obfuscation.

The B.C. Coroners Service either has no idea how many international students in B.C. have been committing suicide. Or it worries that being frank about it would be insensitive; politically, socially, educationally or psychologically. Perhaps its leadership team, with Lisa LaPointe as long-time chief, just doesn’t think the public has a right to know. We’re just guessing.

Meanwhile, a dire mental-health phenomenon continues to expand along with the unprecedented rise of international students, which politicians and educational administrators welcome for the billions of dollars they pour into local economies and educators’ salaries.

The suicide rate among all students in higher education has long been grave. A British report found university students were killing themselves at the rate of one every four days, the large majority being male.

But emotional stress is even more extreme on students coming in from other countries, according to Australian researchers, who are ahead of professionals in Canada in tracking the emotional difficulties they face with isolation, housing, language, education and immigration status.

Even though Australian coroners, consulates and universities were found to be suppressing details about overseas students’ deaths, the country’s federal government admitted earlier that 51 foreign students had died in one 12-month period. But it took outside investigators to point out that suicide was a key cause of the deaths.

One study in the Australian Journal of Psychology found that Chinese international students experienced significantly higher levels of stress than their Australian counterparts. Education Minister Simon Birmingham this year responded to pleas to better support international students by promising to release more detailed comparative data on their mental health.

Australian sociologist Helen Forbes-Mewett discovered some parents send their mentally unwell children overseas in the hope the health system in their host country is superior to that at home. But extra pressures and traditional cultural stigmas about mental illness, said the Monash University professor, typically compound foreign students’ vulnerability.

Forbes-Mewett says it is impossible to lay blame for foreign students’ mental health or elevated risk of suicide on any one agency. As she suggests, it’s “everyone’s problem.” But at the least more B.C. officials could follow the lead of Australia and release relevant data on suicide rates.

Otherwise the public is kept in the dark, and the private anguish of many overwhelmed international students will silently persist.

Source: Douglas Todd: B.C. coroner fails to release suicide data for international students

USA: Suicide rates for black children twice that of white children, new data show

Significant study and yet another example of racial disparities:

African-American children are taking their lives at roughly twice the rate of their white counterparts, according to a new study that shows a widening gap between the two groups.

The 2001-2015 data, published Monday in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, confirm a pattern first identified several years ago when researchers at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Ohio found that the rate of suicides for black children ages 5 to 12 exceeded that of young whites. The results were seen in both boys and girls.

Although suicide is rare among young children, the latest findings reinforce the need for better research into the racial disparities, lead author Jeffrey Bridge said Monday. Suicide is one of the leading causes of death for older children and adolescents in the United States.

“We can’t assume any longer that suicide rates are uniformly higher in white individuals than black,” said Bridge, an epidemiologist who directs the Center for Suicide Prevention and Research at the Columbus hospital. “There is this age-related disparity, and now we have to understand the underlying reasons. . . . Most of the previous research has largely concerned white suicide. So we don’t even know if the same risk and protective factors apply to black youth.”

Historically, suicide rates in the United States have been higher for whites than blacks across all age groups. That remains the case for adolescents, ages 13 to 17, according to the new study. White teens continue to have a 50 percent higher rate of suicide than black teens.

Overall between 1999 and 2015, more than 1,300 children ages 5 to 12 took their own lives in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Those numbers translate into an average of one child 12 or younger dying by suicide every five days. The pace has actually accelerated in recent years, CDC statistics indicate.

The researchers based their latest analysis on the CDC’s Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System, which does not include geographical or socioeconomic data.

Although the study was unable to provide a cultural context for the racial difference in suicide rates, psychiatrist Samoon Ahmad thinks a number of reasons could account for the disparity.

“To me, the 5-12 range is more related to developmental issues and the possible lack of a family network, social network and cultural activities,” said Ahamad, a clinical associate professor at the NYU School of Medicine who was not involved in the research. “And with the introduction of social media, there is more isolation with children, not as much neighborhood play. Kids are more socially in their own vacuum.”

Ahmad described this age group as “probably the most vulnerable.” Yet adults tend to think the children are somehow too young to experience such depths of despair, he noted.

“No one talks about that with them. We tend to put them in silos, and don’t discuss these things because we think it’s too traumatic,” he said. “Instead, there must be a slow and steady flow of communication.”

Previous studies have looked at some of the characteristics and circumstances surrounding children’s suicides.

In 2017, research by Bridge and colleagues found that among children, ages 5 to 11, and young adolescents, ages 12 to 14, those who took their own lives were more likely to be male, African American and dealing with stressful relationships at home or with friends. Children who had a mental health problem at the time of death were more likely than young adolescents to have been diagnosed with attention-deficit disorder or attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Young adolescents who killed themselves were more likely to have had relationship problems with a boyfriend or girlfriend. They also had higher rates of depression, according to last year’s study, which was published in the journal Pediatrics.

That 2017 report found more than a third of elementary school-aged suicides involved black children compared to just 11.6 percent of early adolescent suicides.

Bridge said his motivation for delving into this issue was a suicide in a town not far from Columbus. The child was not yet 10.

“We went into the original study because suicide rates were increasing among adolescents in the United States,” Bridge said. The local death “made us think if there was a change in the suicide rate of children, and that’s what made us look into it.”

Source: Suicide rates for black children twice that of white children, new data show