It’s time we talk about mental health in the Somali community.
The walls of my room suddenly began closing in on me. Nausea hit my churning stomach faster than a bullet train. My heart was about to beat out of my chest, and my leg shook uncontrollably. I couldn’t breathe, the air around me had somehow vanished.
I grabbed at my throat, but just as I thought I was on the brink of death, my breath suddenly returned.
Mentally and physically shaken, I hurriedly ran to my phone. Was I having a heart attack? Dr. Google gave me an answer I didn’t expect.
More specifically, what I experienced was a panic attack. Seeing the words on my screen felt like a slap in the face. While I don’t remember what triggered that physical response, I knew what close family and friends would say if I even uttered the word anxiety, much less discussed my experience.
In the Somali community, mental health is almost never discussed in our homes. Despite many Somalis in Minnesota and abroad experiencing trauma from witnessing the war, we fail to acknowledge its impact.
The Somali Civil War that broke out in 1991 is nothing short of ongoing tragedy. According to a 2020 article from the London School of Economics, survivors recount rape, murder, interclan fighting, physical injures and displacement.
“Many African countries have huge and unmanageable health problems (physical, mental, social, and ecological) as a consequence of prolonged militarized conflicts,” according to a 2020 psychiatry study conducted by the International Journal for Equity in Health.
Somali culture is family-oriented and tightknit. While this can be a positive, it can present a challenge. Due to the stigma of mental health, open discussions lead to judgement and pity from relatives which makes it difficult to get help.
With the majority of Somalis being Muslim, we view the recitation of Quran as the only solution to mental health issues. For some, these holy words have eased their pain but, it shouldn’t be the only option towards tranquility and healing.
The stigma fuels the reluctance to seek out mental health resources. Doctors and providers need to understand the backgrounds and views of their Somali patients so they can effectively treat them.
Despite the ongoing issues in the community, it doesn’t represent Somalis as a whole.
Somalia is the home of poets and storytellers. The air in our neighborhoods is filled with the sweetness of malawah, aunts singing folk music, uncles reciting the Quran in marketplaces and laughter of children echoing through the streets.
I love these parts of my community, but I wish there was support for our mental health.
I hope we reach a point where discussing mental health isn’t frowned upon, where families can sit together and share experiences like my panic attack and be open to collective healing.
ThreeSixty Fall News Team students wrote op-ed stories, inspired by the #360YouthVoiceChallenge, which is inspired by youth.