As an elected official, my central mission is to support legislation that helps all in our state achieve their own version of the American dream – from those who have recently suffered persecution and apartheid beyond our borders, to native Coloradans like me who were blessed with boundless opportunities from a young age.
But it is impossible for one to become the best version of themselves when they are struggling with their mental health.
This is the reality here in Colorado, as many lawmakers and mental health experts agree that the state is experiencing a mental health crisis. Unfortunately, addressing mental health issues is often a more complicated process than solving physical health issues, particularly in the Muslim American community.
Much has been written about the mental health crisis sweeping the nation – and justifiably so. However, few have focused on the unique experiences of Muslim Americans in this space. Mental Health America, an organization that releases annual reports on the national landscape of mental health, found that “significant data on Muslim Americans’ mental health is not available on a national scale.”
Post 9/11, Muslim Americans have remained targets of harassment, discrimination, and Islamophobia, which has manifested in everything from microaggressions to horrific acts of violence. Nearly a third of Muslim Americans say they have been discriminated against in healthcare settings, saying that they are often excluded or ignored when they seek medical care.
Though a societal stigma against mental health continues to plague all racial and cultural demographics in the U.S., Muslim Americans are particularly prone to the barriers to cognitive treatment. The scant data on Muslim American mental health has contributed to a lack of culturally competent mental health care, meaning that trained psychiatrists may often be unaware of the mental health trends and vulnerabilities witnessed by this community. Unfortunately, this could translate into a lower quality of care.
Cultural-specific stigma, in addition to societal stigma against Muslim Americans, may also discourage those with symptoms of a mental illness from seeking the care they need. Unlike similar, physical ailments like a broken bone or fever, Muslim Americans may feel ashamed to admit their mental health struggles or perceive them as a test of faith.
Growing up, I watched my father battle cancer for six years, which silently amassed a $1 million medical summary of care bill left to my family in his final days. I live with epilepsy, which has also given me insight to the stigma that comes with living with seizures and the impact it has on mental health. It is because of these lived experiences, and many others, I have committed to ensuring all Coloradoans have access to health care that is not conjoined by crippling medical bills. That is why one of my legislative priorities for reforming Colorado’s long-outdated healthcare system is including behavioral and mental health coverage in all insurance plans and expanding mental health care access to our most vulnerable populations, including veterans, youth, the homeless, and law enforcement officers.
No patient trying to treat their mental health should have to endure months-long, overly complicated healthcare processes to be able to afford the best treatment for their condition.
This is an issue that cannot be solved through words alone – concrete action needs to be taken to eliminate the tangible barriers that prevent those suffering from getting the necessary care. Removing the stigma against treatment will encourage more Coloradans to get help, but this must be paired with legislation ensuring the highest and most expedient quality of care is in place for those who need it.
Health care is a human right — both physical and mental health care. I welcome my colleagues to join my effort in making mental healthcare affordable and accessible for the many communities across our state. Doing so will strengthen the bond between doctor and patient while eliminating the obstacles obstructing the most innovative psychiatric treatments. Now is the time for change.
Representative Iman Jodeh serves House District 41 in the Colorado House of Representatives.