Flourish Australia peer worker Alma is a Muslim of Lebanese background who has a lived experience of mental health issues. She says that while there is a lot more awareness these days among people of her culture, there is still a strong stigma attached to mental health issues.
“You never used to hear about it, but there are more people accessing services now and people do discuss it, but not always politely, a lot of people say things like ‘he’s crazy’ or ‘he’s a nut job’ or things like that.
“Even my own family members, with university education, sometimes say that people should ‘toughen up’ and you should ‘pull yourself together!’
“There is a still a strong element of shame associated with lived experience in my culture. People see you as being defective in some way. They wonder ‘who will marry you, who would want you?’ You are like damaged goods, in a way.
“I had wanted to do psychology at uni, yet my family didn’t think that was such a good way of helping people, so I did social work.
“My lived experience is situational and it is part of who I am. When I was sixteen I was told I might not be able to walk again. People didn’t understand how that felt and kept telling me to be strong all the time.
“…be proud of your lived experience and see it as a strength.”
“Although my parents do support me, they don’t quite understand it the way I do. Sometimes they ask things like ‘aren’t you scared at work, working with crazy people?’ My Mum sometimes says ‘be careful!’ when I go to work. I think ‘be careful, be careful of what? It’s not LIKE that!’
“These cultural views are not going to go away. The only way around it is to be proud of your lived experience and see it as a strength. In the days before coming to work as a Peer Worker for Flourish Australia, I never would have said anything about my lived experience. But once here, I began to feel that I could talk about it and I saw the people around me as being just like me. Once you start doing that then you slowly break down the barriers. People eventually do adapt to changes, and that includes Muslims.’