Discrimination and Mental Health: How are we impacted?

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As part of International Day of Peace 2020, Muslim Women Australia, in partnership with Anti-Discrimination NSW, held a webinar on Thursday 24th September 2020 to highlight and unpack the specific impact discrimination, including race and religious discrimination can have on mental health. The panel combined experts in the fields of Psychology, Anti-Discrimination Law, Academia and Islamophobia to share information, resources and coping mechanisms to deal with the toll of discrimination. 

Executive Manager of Anti-Discrimination NSW, Elizabeth Wing presented an insight of key points with the Anti-Discrimination Act and how to implement these legislations as individuals and a community. Ms Wing explained that formal complaints are free and do not require legal representation, most people are self-represented in the process who are applying for the legislation and complaints.  She said every circumstance can be different depending on each case which is considered as its own situation. “I encourage people to contact us. We have experienced people on the line”, said Ms Wing.

Panellist Dr Derya Iner, Senior Lecturer and Research Coordinator at the Centre for Islamic Studies, Charles Sturt University, delivered an overview on Islamophobia and the impacts on the wellbeing of Muslim women and their experiences through discrimination. In Australia there are many cases of discrimination left without being addressed and this has a significant effect on mental health. Dr Iner mentioned she had received reports on roughly 1000 cases in her research of islamophobia incident reports. The academic analyses of these cases are able to raise awareness of Islamophobia in Australia, and reporting is crucial in being able to raise awareness. 

In discussing the incidents of discrimination, Dr Iner remarked that Islamophobia is one of the most common and popular type of hate; with religious, race and discrimination being key points that target the Muslim community. She continued to explain the importance of reporting, and that the reporting tool can be used by the victim themselves, a bystander, or a witness. “Women are cautious of what to wear, where to go and travel,” said Dr Iner. 

Many Muslim women try to ignore or deny Islamophobia. This has a negative impact on the women themselves, their children, and their families, with many Muslim parents facing anxiety about what the future will be like for their Australian Muslim children. There are multiple anxieties experienced by women who are facing Islamophobia and how to address these cases. The message to all community members is “We are not alone with our experiences”, speak out and raise the attention of an incident, look at your rights and think positive. 

Panellist Nasreen Hanifi, Psychologist, President of Mission of Hope and the Director of Clinical Operations for Hayat House discussed the importance of being aware of how discrimination effects mental health. She presented on the signs and symptoms that people may experience and how the community can offer support. Ms Hanifi mentioned that research has been conducted with multiple surveys and data highlighting the areas of discrimination and how this can cause severe mental health issues amongst individuals who may experience this on a daily basis.

In discussing a recent research report, Ms Hanifi remarked that “people who experience the most racism were the ones that suffered severe psychological distress”. Her message was to identify the signs and symptoms of mental health, and to speak with professional front line workers who are able to provide the support needed. It is okay to be stressed, you are not alone in this fight and with the right support and assistance individuals are able to get past this impact. 

Final panellist Hajeh Maha Abdo OAM, CEO of MWA, delivered an insightful message of peace and comfort for Muslim women, getting the attendees to ask themselves some important questions. “How do I know who I am? How will I be able to extend a hand if I don’t know what my hand is. Most importantly I have to connect my heart, which sometimes cannot touch but we can feel and see”. As a community, the stronger we are in our faith the stronger we can connect with one another, and recognise that there is change that needs to be made on so many levels.

Hajeh Maha highlighted the importance of having compassion, for the self and as a community as a whole. As individuals, we can bring compassion into our own hearts, and serve kindness to not only ourselves but those around us. Hajeh Maha discussed the importance of having self-awareness, and knowing how we are affected by the things around us.  We need to put work into discovering our own journeys and know who to ask for help and where to seek advice. “This is not just your journey but our journey, together we share peace, together we are better”

The discussion time and Q and A session were a welcome opportunity for the attendees to get involved and seek the expertise of the panellists. Discussion focussed on practical ideas and solutions to support individuals and the community in dealing with discrimination and ensuring people know that there are many people and services they can go to for support when needed. 

This insightful and informative webinar made it clear that we as a community need to cultivate these opportunities in having a healthy safe discussion and focus on empowering one another to be the best we can be, and be there for each other when needed. The panelists were able to unpack the impact of discrimination on mental health, understanding the law, and the available services and resources available for people to access.

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