Arabic-speaking religious leaders' perceptions of the causes of mental illness and the use of medication for treatment

Jacqueline Youssef, Frank P Deane
Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry 2013, 47 (11): 1041-50

OBJECTIVES: The Arabic-speaking clergy is highly revered and considered the first point of contact for people who suffer from mental illness within their community. The current study aimed to explore the beliefs of Arabic-speaking religious leaders regarding the causes of mental illness and the use of medication for their treatment.

METHOD: Participants consisted of 170 Arabic-speaking clerics of Muslim (n = 85) and Christian (n = 85) denominations residing in Sydney, Australia. A questionnaire was administered during face-to-face interviews and included items regarding the causes of mental illness and beliefs about whether psychiatric medications were viewed as helpful or harmful.

RESULTS: Most of the Arabic-speaking clerics viewed drug and alcohol addiction and psychosocial factors as the most important causes of mental illness. Biological causes such as a chemical imbalance in the brain were less frequently endorsed. Although medications were viewed by most religious clerics as helpful in the treatment of mental illness, there were also concerns about the potential harms of medications, particularly among Muslim clerics. Muslim clerics also endorsed the religious causes for mental illness, such as spiritual poverty, as being more important more so than did Christian clerics.

CONCLUSIONS: The beliefs of Arabic-speaking religious leaders influence how they respond to people with mental illness and may determine whether they refer people to professional mental health services or not. Understanding their perspectives allows opportunities to share information to facilitate collaborative work in the care of Arabic-speaking people with mental illness. Arabic-speaking religious leaders need to be better educated about the mechanisms of action and benefits of medication in the treatment of mental illness.

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