imaz-athar

Imaz Athar

Imaz Athar is a senior undergraduate student at the University of Pittsburgh, double majoring in Neuroscience and Sociology. He aspires to become a physician and plans on attending medical school in Fall 2017. Imaz fell in love with the art of writing at a young age and is currently the Publisher of Pitt's undergraduate-run science magazine The Pitt Pulse. When he's not writing or keeping up with classes, Imaz enjoys running, playing basketball, watching Empire, singing (in the shower), and listening to all kinds of music.

Q+A: Dr. Farha Abbasi Talks Muslim Mental Health and Cultural Psychiatry

As Islamophobia has become almost ingrained in our society’s consciousness, many Muslim-Americans have encountered prejudice. Widespread discrimination has negatively impacted the mental health of Muslims, increasing the risk of common mental disorders. Yet, in an environment where both Islam and mental illness are heavily stigmatized, many Muslims are reluctant to access much-needed health care.   Dr. Farha Abbasi—an assistant professor in the department of psychiatry at Michigan State University (MSU) and staff psychiatrist at MSU’s Olin Health Center for students—has recognized this unique challenge. After being awarded the American Psychiatric Association SAMSHA Minority Fellowship in 2009, Abbasi established the Muslim Mental Health Conference which raises awareness on mental health in the Muslim-American community—the 9th annual conference will be held this April 13-14. Abbasi, who also serves as the managing editor for the Journal of Muslim Mental Health, uses cultural psychiatry to teach medical students how to provide culturally aware care to Muslim patients. She also works directly with the Muslim American community to create a better understanding of mental illness.   I spoke with Abbasi about Muslim mental health, stigma, and the value of cultural competence in mental health care.   Q: In your experiences, what specific mental health issues have you seen in the Muslim population? A: If you separate from what’s happening right now with Islamophobia, or the impact of immigration, or the wars, or the refugee situation,...

Pros and Cons of the American Health Care Act

The Republican establishment has longed to repeal Obamacare basically since it became law in 2009. Conservative politicians have centered their campaigns around repealing the health care law, while President Donald Trump promised to get rid of “horrible” Obamacare during rallies.   Image: Source   On March 6, House Republicans revealed Obamacare’s potential replacement: The American Health Care Act (AHCA). The bill has quickly passed through three different house committees before many have had time to fully comprehend its implications. So, who benefits from this new bill and who doesn’t? Let’s list some pros and cons.   PROS – Repeals individual mandate Perhaps the most central (and most criticized) proposal of Obamacare is the individual mandate. This mandate requires all individuals to purchase health insurance. Although both Democrats and Republicans lauded the idea of an individual mandate when it was a part of Mitt Romney’s health care plan in Massachusetts, it quickly came under fire when proposed in Obamacare. Opponents described it as an unconstitutional attack on individual freedom—to them, no one should be forced to buy insurance. This criticism does make sense. For example, if you’re a healthy young person, you might not want to spend a lot of money on health insurance that you probably don’t really need. With that said, for these individuals who are passionate about their individual liberties, the AHCA’s repeal of the mandate is...

Psychotherapy Use is Declining: How Does That Make You Feel?

I shadowed a psychiatrist, Dr. D, about a year ago. I didn’t know how it was going to work. Trust between patient and psychiatrist seemed central to the whole practice of psychotherapy. I was worried that, even as a ‘shadow’ lurking in the corner, I would breach the insulated environment that likely required multiple sessions to create.     It turns out I didn’t have to worry about this because Dr. D was doing consults that day—which were far from intimate, compared to the psychotherapy sessions I expected to see. It involved us going from bed to bed, as Dr. D asked each patient with a history of psychiatric issues general questions about their mental health. As the day of consults went on, I started to wonder whether or not psychotherapy was as relevant as it used to be. Perhaps the image of a patient lying down on a couch and sharing their feelings with a note-taking psychiatrist was more outdated than I thought. Dr. D confirmed my suspicions. He explained to me that many of today’s psychiatrists do not utilize psychotherapy as a dominant form of treatment. Instead, in addition to performing consults, a modern psychiatrist relies more heavily on prescribing psychotropic medications like Zoloft, an antidepressant, or Chlorpromazine, an antipsychotic.   The numbers support the trend Dr. D described. According to a 2010 study in the American...

Re-Picturing Drug Addiction

Paint a picture of a drug addict. Now, step back, and look at what you’ve created. Someone in a dark street corner or maybe alone in a messy, empty room. No job, no money, detached from their surroundings, a lifeless body, shooting up. This picture we’ve created is a masterpiece. Not because of it’s beauty, elegance, or accuracy, but instead due to its ultimate depiction of self-destruction, failure, and death.   In some ways, our depiction of drug addiction is rooted in harsh realities. Drugs devastate both physical and mental health. They consume individual lives and communities and just as easily destroy them. This is all very well-documented—according to the NIH, the number of deaths due to overdose have increased dramatically over the past ten years. More specifically, deaths due to heroin overdose have increased six-fold since 2001.   The effects of drug addiction are real and fatal but, it’s possible that our perception of drug addicts has only made the situation worse. We often think that drug addicts willingly separate themselves from larger, ‘functioning’ society. However, maybe we are the ones who’ve pushed them farther and farther into society’s corners and edges. I mean, think about the anti-drug programs, like D.A.R.E., that many of us go through when we’re in grade school. From what I remember, D.A.R.E scared us straight—the main message they tried to hammer in our...

Mental Health Stigma in the Muslim Community

  Mental health in the Muslim community has recently become an even more pressing issue. As I explained in a previous article, Islamophobic attitudes, previously dormant in the minds of many, have become active—Islamophobic voices have become louder. Discrimination, in its overt and subtle forms, has a negative impact on the mental health of Muslim-Americans. This claim has been backed by research. For example, a study by the Boston University School of Medicine found that the daily harassment that some Muslims face “can increase their risk of common mental disorders,” such as anxiety and depression.   Islamophobia is just one part of the mental health discussion in the Muslim community. While outer societal forces, such as Islamophobia, can affect Muslim-Americans’ mental health, stigma—a force within the Muslim community—also greatly impacts mental health. The American Muslim Health Professionals have recognized mental health literacy as the number one public health concern within the Muslim-American community, and that stigma is a big reason behind it. Stigma prevents many Muslim-Americans from discussing their mental health issues with others, and even accessing mental health resources. In some cases, stigma may potentially make mental health issues worse, or even prevent individuals from realizing their issues to begin with.   Stigma within the Muslim-American community is rooted in culture and religion, just like many other forms of stigma. As explained in journal article “Mental Health Stigma...

If Kanye West Was Your Doctor…

“I see this is your first time seeing Dr. West,” the nurse said after checking my height and weight. “Yeah, it is, actually,” I said as we started to walk down the hallway towards the examination room. “Dr. West is fantastic—you’re gonna love him! One of the best doctors we have in the hospital,” the nurse said. “I mean…” Suddenly, her toothy smile vanished, her mouth became a straight line, and her bright eyes gave way to an empty gaze. She slowly turned her neck to look at me. “…Dr. West’s the best of all time.” “Oh…well that’s a relief, I guess,” I said with a chuckle, trying to break the eery, awkward tension that now filled the tight hallway. “Alright, here we are!” she said—her cheery expression returned, as if it hadn’t left. She opened the door, and there he was. Sitting on the medical bed, black sunglasses over his eyes, headphones on his ears, Kanye West was movin’ to his music. It were as if the sonic charge from his laptop made its way through this headphones, and into his body, causing him to groove along in rhythm with the beat of whatever he was listening to. Source   “Dr. West…your patient is here,” the nurse said, raising her voice, but also kinda quiet because deep down she didn’t wanna disturb Kanye. “Dr. West,” she said again. Still no response....

Islamophobia and the Mental Health of Muslim-Americans

  It has become all too clear that Islamophobia is more than a buzzword, but a widespread discriminatory ideology that sees no difference between Muslim and terrorist. Turn on the news, and you’ll see a widely-known, pompous presidential candidate proposing a ban on Muslims, including those escaping violence and political unrest, from entering the country — to make America great again, of course. Turn to another channel, and you’ll see a political correspondent interviewing Americans who vow their support for this ‘much-needed’ proposal. Turn the channel again, and you’ll see that this presidential candidate is leading his opponents by a landslide in the latest polls. Turn the channel one last time, and you’ll see a Muslim woman kicked out of the presidential candidate’s rally after silently protesting Islamophobia.   Like many forms of discrimination, Islamophobia is embedded in our society’s most prominent institutions, including the government and media. Muslim-Americans have undergone intense racial profiling by government agencies, such as the NSA, while the New York Police Department surveilled mosques as “terrorism enterprise investigations” after being pressured by the Justice Department. Popular news outlets have also shared Islamophobic attitudes — Bill O’Reilly once exclaimed “Muslims killed us on 9/11”, failing to differentiate between Muslims and terrorists. The views of these large institutions — government and media — are diffusible, easily consumed by the unsuspecting and fulfilling the starving ignorance of...