Educating Imams on Mental Health Creates Ripple Effect in Somali Community

For the past three years, a group of imams from South Minneapolis has been nurturing not just the spiritual health of their congregations, but the mental health, as well.

The imams, Muslim religious leaders, have taken part in an education program created by Fairview Community Health Staff aimed at reducing the stigma of mental illness and providing mental health resources to the Somali community.

Addressing community needs

Beginning in September 2013, the program has hosted monthly trainings that each addressed a different mental health-related topic. Some of the topics from 2015 included women’s mental health, personality disorders, loss and grief, self-care/prevention, stress, dissociation, parent and child relationships and mindfulness.

I have changed a lot since the first training session. I have a new perspective on mental illnesses,” says Imam Abdirashid Hassan. “I have used these lessons to help others have awareness. My goal for the future is to help my community in the best way possible.”

Imams are highly respected educators and leaders in the Somali community. By educating the imams about mental illness, the program creates a dialogue around mental health, increases knowledge of mental health symptoms and treatment options and provides the imams with skills and resources to promote better access to care.

Raising mental health awareness

“The imams have begun to see mental illness as treatable condition,” says Pa Chia Vue, Fairview community health project manager.

The trainings have taught the imams about positive steps to take when they see community members in poor mental health, such as referring them to a doctor or providing them with social support. The imams are then taking that knowledge and spreading it to their mosques, creating a positive ripple effect within their communities.

Many are even educating about mental health during their sermons, says Pa Chia.  This year, organizers added a “sermon prep form” to the training sessions, allowing imams to pair up and brainstorm ideas on how to relate mental health issues to quotes in the Quran.

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