In honor of Mental Health Awareness Week, I asked public speaker and mental health advocate Ahmad Abojaradeh to share his story and why the acknowledgement of this issue is vital.
“At every speaking event, I am asked why I do this. Why do I stand in front of tens and hundreds of people and share the most intimate parts of my life? The answer is simple, because I need to.
I grew up far away from any kind of conversation about mental illness, or mental health for that matter. I was isolated from the world in many ways, this was one of them. Unfortunately, many Muslims are in the same place.
For most people, the mere fact that I, an individual with five mental illnesses, am standing in front of them, and not dead, violent, or incapable of functioning, is powerful enough to convey my message.
I have lived with social anxiety from the moment I became conscious of the world around me, or even before then. By the age of six, I had developed Dissociative Disorder to protect me from the pain and trauma inflicted upon me by those I trusted at the time. At 12, I found myself incapable of living with the way I looked and changing it. At 14, it was the beginning of a depression that has never fully seized to take over my life. At 20, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder hit like a tsunami, developing from earthquake like trauma from years prior. At 21, I became healthy for the first time. Today, at 24, I share the intimate details of how these mental illnesses affected me, those around me, and ultimately the world around me.
The details are not important. For most people, the mere fact that I, an individual with five mental illnesses, am standing in front of them, and not dead, violent, or incapable of functioning, is powerful enough to convey my message.
Mental health is not one-dimensional. Mental health is a spectrum with a wealth of depth. Each and every single one of us will be different. Each illness will react differently to everyone. And even the same illness, will react differently to the same individual at different times. We are not all the same. But many individuals, across all races, genders, orientations, class, and anything else, are impacted by mental illness.
One in four individuals will suffer from at least one mental illness in their lifetime. For something that affects a quarter of the world, we have done a terrible job at supporting one another through it, and normalizing the reality that is mental illness.
I wasn’t always vocal about my problems. I didn’t even know they had names for years. Therapy was not a thing in my family, and it wasn’t until I was in my sophomore year of college that I found another Muslim who could relate. That changed my life forever and I hoped that I could change the conversation and be someone that other Muslims and non-Muslims can see as an example. I hoped that by speaking, others wouldn’t have to wait 18 years to identify that this is an illness and not a problem exclusive to them. Because if you don’t know anyone who is a victim, then the problem is you. If this isn’t a disease, then there’s something terribly wrong with you.
I stood behind a podium and declared to tens of parents that I had been suicidal in the past. This was in a mosque. The collective gasp that followed was only overshadowed by the gratitude in the parents eyes after the talks.
I spoke in front of a Muslim community for the first time in my senior year of college, almost two years after I started public speaking. I stood behind a podium and declared to tens of parents that I had been suicidal in the past. This was in a mosque. The collective gasp that followed was only overshadowed by the gratitude in the parents eyes after the talks.
We have a lot of work to do within our communities, but when has any of this been easy? We have a need for mental health work in every community across the board, and I believe we’re finally starting to open up ourselves to having this conversation. At a time when Islamophobia and social injustice is very visible within our society, the mental health category cannot go unchecked. We need conversations around protecting our mental well-being, and healing from personal and collective trauma.
Today, I go around the country and the world sharing my story, and these messages, hoping no one suffers alone.”
You can check out Ahmad’s blog for more on how mental health plays a role politically, socially, and spiritually.