A group of Community Leaders and Imams underwent the Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) course on 7-8 March 2020, courtesy of a collaborative partnership between the Australian National Imams Council (ANIC) and educAID Australia.

The key objective of the training was to upskill, equip and empower leaders in a faith-based context to identify, understand, and respond to mental health problems and crisis situations when assisting those within their care.

Facilitated by educAID Au cofounders and instructors Ziyad Serhan and Tareq Ahmed, participants partook in an intensive two-day workshop that equipped them with essential information, tools, strategies and resources to be able to identify the signs and symptoms of poor mental health and different mental disorders.

The framework provided by the course allows first responders to appropriately address challenging scenarios to ensure individuals who experience signs of a mental illness are supported and then directed to relevant professionals and/or services.

The immense benefit and value of the course was expressed by participants and evident in post-course testimonials where Ummu Kulthoom Matthews (Islamic Studies, Counselling and Leadership Teacher) stated: “This course has given me a greater understanding about Mental Health and Mental illness and has allowed me to feel more confident in approaching and helping someone who may be in need of help.”

There was a strong consensus among all participants that the mental health literacy amongst the Muslim community needed addressing to better be able to engage in a topic that is highly stigmatised in society and in our communities.

Imam Jamil El-Biza (Imam & Community engagement officer, Masjid Assalam Wolongong) said: “Mental health is a very important topic with many overlooking it. As an Arab-Muslim man, mental health is synonymous to mental illness and so even having a discussion about having better understanding of our mental well-being was taboo. This course allows us to take our first steps towards understanding a topic that effects us all.”

Principal Instructor, Ziyad Serhan, stated: “Having faith-based community leaders all in the one room talking everything MENTAL HEALTH was very special. This was one of the most rewarding initiatives we’ve been involved in to-date because it was a way of ‘giving back’ to individuals who have given so much to us and our communities and who continue to give back. For me (and the team), embarking on this journey to increase Mental Health literacy at all levels of our communities has no bounds.”

As a result of the training, an online Facebook group was established that seeks to bring together Muslim Mental Health First Aiders to continue the conversation and to support one another in terms of working within a Muslim-specific context. With overwhelming feedback received, there are now further plans to hold similar training’s for community leaders in the near future.