A selfie of a group of young people.

Mental health advice for young Muslims

Play Video: Young British Muslims talk mental health Young British Muslims talk mental health

As a Muslim, your faith can help you cope with life’s pressures. But being a young Muslim in the UK isn’t always easy. You might face challenges related to your religion or cultural identity, which can impact your mental health. But you don’t have to face this alone.

We know that mental health advice that doesn’t take into account your faith, or cultural background, might not be as helpful as you need. And if you’re struggling, it can feel especially difficult to talk about what you’re going through if you’re worried you’ll be misunderstood.

We’re not experts in Islam. And we can’t change society and mental health services to be more religiously and culturally aware overnight, even though we’d like to. But we believe you deserve the right support for you. That’s why we’ve partnered with Muslim Youth Helpline, and worked with lots of young Muslims from across the UK to create information and advice that’s designed with young British Muslims in mind.

Self-care for young Muslims

Everyone struggles with how they feel sometimes, and that’s okay. The first step is realising that your feelings are valid. If you’re struggling, practising self-care is something you can try to help.

Our self-care guide for young Muslims gives faith-friendly advice and tips to help you take positive steps towards looking after yourself. The guide is shaped by young Muslim voices, and looks at self-care in the context of Islamic faith and culture.

A self-care guide for young Muslims

What are self-care and self-love?

Self-care is what we do to look after our own mental health. It’s about understanding how we feel and what we need, so we can take care of ourselves. Self-care is not just one thing, it’s your thing. That means that what works for you might not work for someone else, or the other way around. After all, we’re all unique and what we need to feel good is different for everyone. It’s also important to remember that it’s not about what it looks like, but what it does for you and how it makes you feel.

Self-love is similar to self-care, as both refer to the things we do to help ourselves feel good. But while self-care focuses on the things you do to look after yourself, self-love is more about how you treat yourself with love and kindness. With both self-care and self-love, you need to put yourself first.

Putting yourself first

To look after yourself, sometimes you need to put your needs first. But putting yourself first isn’t always easy.

We spoke to a group of young British Muslims, who told us that it can sometimes feel like, to be a good person, you need to put everybody else first.

You might feel pressure from people around you to act in a way that meets their expectations, sometimes at the cost of your own wellbeing. This pressure might also come from within, which can be just as difficult to deal with.

But if you only ever do things for others and never for you, this can impact your own wellbeing. That’s why putting yourself first is not a luxury or selfish thing to do, but a necessity.

When you find a balance between helping yourself and helping others, it can be easier for you to make sure that you don’t neglect your own needs.

For more tips on prioritising your mental health, take a look at our guest blogger's story on how Maryam’s story in the Qur’an inspired them to look after their mental health.

A person writing in a notebook.
To me self-care is about doing what I need to do in order to fulfil the potential God gave me and not waste it.
Shayan, 18

Reasons you may struggle

Here are some of the reasons why the young Muslims we spoke to struggled to put themselves first, and things that helped them:

You might feel under pressure from other people’s expectations of you. When you’re dealing with pressure, it can be hard to focus on your own needs. That’s why it’s important to set boundaries, and make time to focus on what you need. We have more advice on this further down the page.

Sometimes you might feel guilty about putting yourself first instead of others. But remember that looking after yourself isn’t selfish - it’s important and necessary for your mental health. You can be a kind, caring person while also looking after yourself.

Aaliyah shares her experience of looking after her mental health during Ramadan.

Navigating Ramadan with a mental illness

When people close to you don’t put themselves first, you might find it difficult to do this yourself. You might even be discouraged from prioritising your needs. If this happens, it can be helpful to find someone you can speak to who you can trust. This might be a friend, teacher, lecturer, colleague, or another family member.

Charity is a core value of Islam, and in some communities there is a big emphasis on being giving and putting others first. While this can be very beneficial, it’s important to remember to balance this with your own needs and not to forget your own wellbeing, because that’s important too.

It’s important to find a balance between looking after yourself, and what you do for or because of other people. There’s no one right way to do this. But a good place to start is knowing that how you feel matters.

We asked young Muslims what they’d say to a friend who was struggling to put themselves first.

Here’s what they said:

  • Tell them that they are amazing, and tell them self-care is important for their mental health.
  • You can't pour from an empty cup.
  • Sometimes you need to put yourself first so that you can continue to be there for others.
  • The more you give to others, the bigger the void in you will be if you don't give the same to yourself.

Setting boundaries

Why are boundaries important?

Putting boundaries in place can help you to look after your mental health when you’re dealing with pressure – this might be from friends, family, or other people in your life. Or it might even be pressure you put on yourself.

Setting boundaries is about working out what you need for your wellbeing, and taking the steps to get there.

If you’re thinking about setting boundaries, below are a few things that might help.

Lantern Initiative 4 tips on healthy boundaries. The list reads: not tolerating disrespectful behaviour from others, saying "no" to something that compromises your emotions, values or wellbeing, knowing who you are and not letting another person's toxic comments affect or change this, accepting kindness and consideration from others like you give to others.

Image by @thelanterninitiative on Instagram. Text reads: "Healthy boundaries... #1 Not tolerating disrespectful behaviour from others. #2 Saying "no" to something that compromises your emotions, values or wellbeing. #3 Knowing who you are and not letting another person's toxic comments affect or change this. #4 Accepting kindness and consideration from others like you give to others."

Identifying your boundaries

Before you can set boundaries, you need to work out what they are.

Noticing how you feel in certain situations can help you recognise when you need boundaries. If a situation makes you feel upset, uncomfortable or anxious, then it might be something you need a boundary for.

Keep in mind that your boundaries are meant to help you. So, when you’re thinking about your boundaries – ask yourself: will this help my wellbeing?

Remember that your boundaries might be different depending on the situation. For example, what you’re comfortable with inside your home might be different when you’re somewhere else.

Working out what boundaries will help you can be tricky. It might be helpful to talk to someone you trust about it, for example, a friend, family member, a school or university counsellor, a colleague, or a faith leader. This might also be something you’d like to talk to a mental health professional about.

Some boundaries only affect you – and will be things you want to do or not do. But often, boundaries are related to other people and how they behave with or around you. If your boundary is about other people, you’ll need to think about how to communicate this with them.

Putting boundaries in place

Whether your boundary is for yourself or others, it’s important to work out how to put them in place and stick to them.

  • Communicate about the boundaries you need

    A really important step in setting boundaries with others is communicating them. This isn’t always easy. If you’re worried about how to talk to your family, our advice on struggling with family can help. Or if you’re struggling to set boundaries with friends, check out Rachel’s blog about how she set healthy boundaries with a friend who she was helping.

  • Respect your boundaries

    Sometimes people might forget or ignore your boundaries. It can help to think about what you can do if this happens. For example, you might want to give them a gentle reminder, or need a longer conversation to remind them why it’s important. Remember, it’s okay to speak up for yourself.

  • Forgive yourself

    If you have set boundaries with yourself and struggle to stick to them, try to forgive yourself. It might be that it will just take some time and practice. Or you might need to re-think if the boundaries work for you.

We asked a group of young Muslims about the best mental health advice they ever received or would give to others.

Here’s what they shared:

  • Thoughts and feelings that just come to mind don't define you.
  • Take a break, but don't quit.
  • Learn to sit with your emotions to get to know yourself better.
  • Mental health struggles aren't a weakness - rather it shows how strong you've had to be through all your life.

Talking about your feelings

Two people sat on a sofa talking seriously.

Talking about your feelings isn’t always easy. And when it’s hard to open up to the people around you, you might feel like you need to ignore your feelings or keep them hidden. But remember, how you feel matters – and talking to someone can really help.

A good place to start is thinking about who you can speak to. You might want to talk to your parents, or another member of your family, like a cousin or sibling. Or you might feel more comfortable talking to a friend or an adult who you trust, like a teacher, lecturer, sports coach or colleague. If you’re not sure who to turn to, or how to start a conversation, take a look at our advice on how to ask for help.

You can also read Shah's story on what opening up about his mental health taught him as a young Muslim man.

Read Shah's story
Don’t make the same mistake as me and think it’s going to be difficult to open up. When I found the right person to talk to, I couldn’t stop speaking – and speaking things into existence not only validates how you feel but helps you figure things out yourself too.
Waris, 22

Tough conversations

Talking about how you feel is often the first step to feeling better. But opening up can feel hard when you’re worried about how the person or people will react. This can be even harder if the person we’re opening up to isn’t used to talking about mental health – particularly if they feel some kind of cultural stigma about it.

It can also feel difficult opening up about your mental health to someone who doesn’t share the same cultural or religious background as you, especially when you’re talking about things that relate to your culture or religion. You might be worried that they will misunderstand you, or judge you.

Working out who you’re most comfortable talking to is important. But even when you know who you want to speak to, you may still worry about their reaction - this is entirely normal.

If you're worried about opening up to someone who doesn't share the same cultural identity as you, take a look at our cultural identity and mental health guide for more tips and advice. Here you’ll find information about the relationship between cultural identity and mental health, how to navigate expectations and pressures, and how to get the support that’s right for you.

Cultural identity and mental health
Text over a white background that reads: A guide for tough conversation by Blair Imani. The list reads: 1. start from a place of mutual respect, 2. speak to share, not to change minds, 3. be present and listen with intention, 4. set boundaries and respect boundaries, 5. speak from your personal experience. Not on behalf of others. Be open to credible sources when discussing information that is not personal, 6. be patient with yourself and others. Text at the end reads: Conversations do not need to be won.

Image by @blairimani on Instagram. Text reads: "A guide for tough conversations by Blair Imani. 1. Start from a place of mutual respect. 2. Speak to share, not to change minds. 3. Be present and listen with intention. 4. Set boundaries and respect boundaries. 5. Speak from your personal experience, not on behalf of others. Be open to credible sources when discussing information that is not personal. 6. Be patient with yourself and others. Conversations do not need to be won."

It can sometimes help to prepare for a conversation about your mental health.

Here are some things you can try:

  • Write a few notes about what you want the person or people to know and understand. This might help you get your thoughts in order and take away some anxiety about getting flustered.

  • Is there a TV show, movie, or book you're both familiar with that you can use as a relatable example of what's going on and what life feels like for you?

  • Try writing your worries about the conversation down, then ask yourself: How likely is this to happen? Is this the worst-case scenario? What if things go better than hoped for?

  • You might want to set a time limit on the conversation, and go and see a friend or plan something to boost your mood afterwards.

  • If you use more than one language at home, think about which language you feel most comfortable speaking in to describe your feelings.

  • Be prepared for the conversation to go differently to how you might have expected. It could go better than you could have imagined, or it might not be as easy as you first thought. But whatever happens, be proud of yourself for taking that first step.

  • Consider having a practice conversation with someone you trust to rehearse what you want to say.

  • If they don't respond in the way that you'd hoped, don't give up. It might take a few attempts to get them to understand you.

Remember, it’s okay if they’re not able to be the support you need right now. Some things take time, and right now, there will be other people you can open up to.

Getting professional help

Getting professional help can feel scary, especially when you don’t know what to expect. But sometimes getting the right professional support is what you need to start to feel better.

There are lots of different types of professional help, like therapists, psychologists and GPs. There are also free helpline and listening services available through charities and other organisations, where you can call and talk to trained advisers. It can be helpful to understand what support is available to you, so you can choose what works for you.

Whether you’re seeing your GP, a therapist, or any other service, it’s important to remember that everyone’s experience is different.

Here are just some of the ways that professional support can help:

  • Simply talking about your feelings can be an important step to help you feel better.

  • Sometimes it’s easier to talk to a stranger than to a friend or family.

  • Whatever the service, the aim is to help you feel better.

  • They can help you understand your own feelings better, think about why you might respond to things the way you do, and help you think of different ways of thinking about things.

  • Your conversation is confidential, so you don’t need to worry about things being shared with others. They may need to tell someone if they think you or someone else might not be safe, but they will usually tell you if this happens.

  • They will have training and experience with dealing with different mental health problems, so be equipped to help you.

  • They won't judge you and will offer impartial advice and support no matter what you're going through.

  • They can signpost you to other organisations who might be able to help you in the way that you'd like.

  • They will let you know the different support or treatment options available to you.

Finding the right support

While mental health professionals are trained to be non-judgmental and open-minded, every individual therapist, doctor or other professional is different. Some will be excellent at supporting you and making you feel comfortable and understood. But others might not have the level of awareness, skill or ability to relate to you and understand you in the way that you need. Remember, you deserve the best treatment possible for you, so if something’s not working for you, talk to someone about it. And if one thing doesn’t work for you, remember there are always other options, and you will find something that does help.

If you’re not happy with the support you’re receiving, we talk about the steps you can take in our guides to counselling and therapy and how to speak to your GP.

Find out more about getting professional help and support in our advice guides.

Cultural and faith sensitive support

We know that support and advice that doesn’t take into account your faith and culture can be unhelpful. You deserve professional help that is culturally-informed and religiously aware, so you can feel truly understood and get the right support for you.

Unfortunately, you don’t often get much choice when it comes to who you are offered to speak to on the NHS. But that doesn’t mean that this route won’t work for you, or that the support on offer won’t be the exact thing you need right now.

If you are seeing a mental health professional who doesn’t share your cultural background or faith, and you feel this is having an impact on how they can support you, it’s okay to talk to them about how this makes you feel. It can feel uncomfortable at times, but there may be things they can do to show better cultural sensitivity and understanding. However, it’s important to remember that it’s not your responsibility to teach them about your faith, culture or background. And it’s okay for you to say that you want to speak to someone who might better understand you and your experiences or to look for another support option.

Muslim Youth Helpline

  • You might find it helpful to get professional support through an organisation that offers culturally and faith specific support for young Muslims.

    Muslim Youth Helpline offers faith and culturally sensitive support by phone, live chat, WhatsApp or email.

You're not alone

  • It’s important not to blame yourself for struggling with how you feel. There are lots of different things that can impact your mental health, which are outside of your immediate control and aren’t your fault. These might be things in your personal world, like peer pressure or family issues, or things in the wider world like racism, Islamophobia, sexism, or homophobia. Sometimes these things can overlap as well. For example, you might have friends who are pressuring you in a discriminatory way. Going through this might make you feel frustrated, angry, powerless, upset, and lots of other feelings.

    Remember, you’re not alone in how you feel – there are others who will share your experiences and feel the same as you.

    Read this real story on the ups and downs of being a modern Muslimah.

An illustration of a female wearing a headscarf and black text highlighted in purple is layered over a blue background. The title is: your mental health does not exist in a vacuum, and a scattered list around the illustration reads: racism, islamophobia, colourism, poverty, homophobia, family issues, hate crime, body image, sexism, casteism, peer pressure, relationships. @Dr.NadiaSadiq is signed at the bottom left of the image.

Artwork by @spiritual.psychologist on Instagram. Text reads: "Your mental health does not exist in a vacuum. Racism. Islamophobia. Hate crime. Body image. Colourism. Sexism. Poverty. Casteism. Homophobia. Peer pressure. Family issues. Relationships."

I have experience of people treating me differently because of the colour of my skin. This can range from micro-aggressions from calling me the same name as someone else in class, to making blatant insensitive comments. This has taken a toll on my health and also how I view and trust my school.
Anonymous, 18

Campaigning for change

Last year, thousands of young people told us the changes that need to happen to make the world a better place for their mental health. We’ve listened, and now the Government needs to do the same. We’re calling for:

  • quicker and easier access to NHS mental health services
  • better mental health support in schools
  • early support hubs in every community

These early support hubs are typically more culturally-relevant to the communities they serve.

If you want to add your voice and take action, join our campaign to #EndTheWait.

Join our campaign

Where to get further help

If you're struggling with your mental health, you don't have to face this alone. Here are some organisations and helpline services that can support you.

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