London

This Muslim youth help line received 2,000 Ontario calls last year

The growing number of Muslim youth turning to a help line tailored toward their needs has prompted officials to extend the help line's hours of operation.

Societal pressure, Islamophobia and addictions are among the reasons for calls

The help line weekday hours between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. will start earlier at about 3 p.m. and operate on weekends. (iStock)

The growing number of Muslim youth turning to a help line tailored to their needs has prompted officials to extend its hours of operation.

Naseeha — meaning 'advice' in Arabic — received about 2,000 calls from Ontario residents in 2017. Overall, there were 18,000 calls made.

That number is projected to double in 2018.

"People can call in and speak to a [Muslim peer counsellor] who they may not know, but may have a better understanding of the background of where they're coming from culturally and religiously," said outreach manager Huma Saeedi.

"It's really important in today's day and age with youth that are struggling with their identity being Canadian and Muslim," she said.

Ontario youth are calling for spiritual and psychological help, specifically related to mental health, faith and sexual orientation. In the last year, Saeedi said most callers have been between 21 and 30 years old. 

'There's still a lot of taboo'

Despite the numbers, mental health continues to be a highly stigmatized topic in Muslim households, said Saeedi, who also works for the Centre of Addiction and Mental Health.

Peer counsellors being trained. The non-profit is headquartered in the Greater Toronto Area. (Naseeha help line)

"There's still a lot of taboo," she said, adding that the issues Muslim youth face are similar to the ones non-Muslims face.

"The issues are just magnified when you're part of a smaller, marginalized community where often the parents may not have that support available to provide to their children," she said.

"Whether it be due to limited understanding of what mental health is about or limited time because they're immigrant families."

With those issues come added stresses like Islamophobia, discrimination and racism — which is the third reason why Ontario callers pick up the phone.

Saeedi said it's important to note that the trained counselors based in the GTA don't chime in on issues related to Islamic law. Those calls are referred to local religious leaders or institutions.

"We're there not to provide any type of judgment, not to give any opinions from our own selves, or what we believe the religion may or may not say about it. We're there for them to provide them support through what they're struggling with," she said.

There are 30 peer counselors that include people from London. Starting in July, the weekday hours between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. will start earlier at about 3 p.m. and operate on weekends.

Top 5 reasons for Ontario calls:

  • Spiritual and Psychological: Mental health, faith, sexual orientation
  • Relationships: Boyfriend-girlfriend, friends, co-workers, marriage/divorce, parent-youth conflict  
  • Societal Pressures: Islamophobia, discrimination, racism, bullying, peer pressure, body image
  • Crisis: Suicide, sexual abuse, child abuse, domestic violence
  • Addictions: Drugs, alcohol, pornography, masturbation