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Researcher addresses barriers faced by Muslims seeking help with addictions

A London, Ont., researcher is shedding light on the barriers Muslims face when it comes to overcoming substance addictions. 

Study shows those looking for support face stigma and fear of backlash

A London, Ont., researcher is shedding light on the barriers Muslims face in overcoming substance addictions. 

While describing her study as exploratory, Siham Elkassem, a graduate of King's University College's social work program and a current doctoral candidate at Memorial University, found several key takeaways when looking at substance use and misuse among Muslims.

"The study revealed that stigma of addictions is a significant barrier to accessing mental services, along with a myriad of different variables, including oppression, fear of discrimination and lack of understanding of cultural differences," Elkassem said on CBC's Afternoon Drive. 

Elkassem, a Muslim who has lived in London for more than 20 years, said assumptions of what it means to be a Muslim, also play a role. 

The study examined the perspective of 20 community leaders and professionals from London, including religious leaders, such as Imams, doctors, police  officers, social workers, and teachers who were described by Elkassem as being gatekeepers to treatment for Muslims seeking support for addictions.

While describing her study as exploratory, Siham Elkassem, a graduate of King's University College's social work program and current doctoral candidate at Memorial University, found several key takeaways when looking at substance use and misuse among Muslims. (Submitted by Siham Elkassem)

One of the topics explored was the barriers Muslims face when seeking help for substance use and misuse.  Findings reveal that there is fear within the Muslim community to express the need for help due to potential backlash. The study also suggests there isn't enough outreach from traditional help agencies to the Muslim community, which leaves people with a lack of awareness about which services are available.

Elkassem said other major themes that were looked at include the impact of Islam and the influence that family and community have on the response to the use of substances. The study says faith is seen as both a protection and a burden because of "different interpretations of Islam and negative cultural beliefs which fuel stigma and shame."

"The most important thing right now is to raise awareness and speak to the stigma," Elkassem said.

The study was done before the COVID-19 pandemic, but Elkassem said the conversation needs to move forward taking into account what researchers have learned about inequities when it comes to accessing support. 

"We know the pandemic has really revealed the inequities that racialized folks face. And so I think that as we move forward, we really need to unpack how these increased complexities of the pandemic may have actually exacerbated issues around substance use and abuse."

"There needs to be some additional questions against the backdrop of racial injustice that sort of permeates through our society."

With files from Afternoon Drive

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