Rania Awaad – The Future of Muslim Mental Health Stanford Engineerings The Future of Everything podcast

Rania Awaad
AI: Summary © The speakers discuss the challenges of studying and serving the Muslim community, including mental health issues. They emphasize the importance of adjusting to social and religious environments to recognize and respond to mental health concerns. The speakers also discuss the reasons behind mental health concerns, including cultural taboos and the importance of holistic health. They stress the need for cultural and faith clarification to establish alliance with patients and emphasize the importance of common thread between faith and mental health. They also touch on the use of " blame" in modern English and the significance of "arement center" in modern culture.
AI: Transcript ©
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This is Stanford Engineering is the future of everything and I'm your host, Russ Altman. If you enjoy the podcast, please follow or subscribe to it on your favorite podcast listening app. Today Professor Rania Awad will tell us about how she is helping understand and serve the Muslim community as they deal with mental health issues. It's the future of Muslim mental health. Before we jump into this episode, a reminder to please rate and review the podcast. That helps us immensely with getting the word out about the podcast and improving it. The last couple of decades have shown an important D stigmatization of mental health for many years before that having depression, schizophrenia,

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bipolar disorder was something that was hidden. People were ashamed to admit that they had these diseases. We've made great progress in helping people understand that these are diseases just like diabetes, or lung cancer, and that you need to seek help. However, what about religious people? What about folks with a deep faith Christians, Jews, Muslims, how does the faith interact with their understanding of mental health? In particular for Muslim communities in the United States? This hasn't been a big challenge. Very often, they're coming as recent immigrants from war torn areas, they are experiencing lots of discrimination and misunderstanding from the pre existing population

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in the US. Others have been here for many generations and continue to have traumatic experiences. What does this mean as they process both their mental health challenges, as well as their religious faith? Well, Rania Awad is a Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University. She specializes in understanding the special challenges of treating mental health disorders in the Muslim community. She has studied the texts of the Muslim faith, and she's a board certified psychiatrist. And she brings us together to create innovative programs for treating her patients. Not surprisingly, the lessons that she's learned are relevant to more than the Muslim community. And

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so she's also exporting these learnings to patients dealing with faithful Christians, Jews and other religions. So Rania, your work focuses on the mental health of the Muslim community. What are the special challenges in studying and serving that community? Yeah, definitely. This community here in the United States, and in the West, in general, is a minority community. So one of the biggest kind of challenges really, is how do we make sure that there is access to care, and also kind of bringing down some of the stigma related to mental health? In this community, it's a very diverse community is another kind of main challenge we have here. It's not homogenous in any way. And so there's lots

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of diversity ethnically, racially, social economically, even religiosity wise. So there's lots of different factors to consider. And when you think about how do you get mental health care to all of these different parts of the Muslim community, then you realize, Wow, this is kind of a big undertaking. So those are some of the biggest challenges currently that I would say are happening for this community, it's not hard to imagine that being a Muslim person in the United States can be very challenging. I'm sure a fraction of them are new immigrants coming from places where there's been terrible things happening. Some of them may be long term people whose have many been here for

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many generations. What are the issues that you see most commonly as as a, I believe, a practicing psychiatrist? What what do you see in this community? And are there heightened rates of mental health challenges compared to other populations? So that these are all great questions, honestly, what we see in and here again, I'll use the word I prefer to use the word communities, because really what we're talking about is multiple different communities. And you're absolutely right, depending on whether this the person we're talking about is an immigrant, a new immigrant, are they first generation second generation, a point five generation or 1.5 generation? There's all these new

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terminologies in terms of acculturation? How long has a person been here and kind of is there the sense of like having a heart in two worlds, where they're very much still mind and heart is somewhere else, actually not here in the US, maybe also family members and challenges that they're constantly thinking about their versus, let's say children who may have been born and raised here all their life, and now they're raising their own children here. And those issues might be very different actually, than their parents who may have emigrated. Then you have, for example, the African American community, which is actually the largest subgroup of the American Muslim community,

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and they have been here since the start of the United States. And so you're talking about, you know, intergenerational trauma and interracial trauma for a very, very long time, all of which adds to mental health concerns. So yes, I would say that there's, there's there's a lot of factors to think about. And when you compare mental health rates to other communities, you actually don't feel

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I mean, necessarily that there are much higher depression, anxiety, so on, where you do find some major differences have to do with adjustment rates. So adjusting to the current climate that we're in, or the sometimes the social political climate keeps changing, right, the last few years have been different than the year either, you know, the years prior to that. And so, we've really been, it's, it's a bit of a roller coaster, I would say, and those of us who are mental professionals in the field have felt this to, actually, so one of the things that always comes up and I know you've studied this is the relationship of the faith itself, the religious faith, to perceptions of mental

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health, openness to treatment, I know that all all faiths, have traditions, some of them are easier, some of them are less easy to kind of resolve with mental health problems and challenges. So I'm wondering if you could tell me how did how, what is the situation with respect to the Islamic faith and the ways in which it helps or hinders people in recognizing their need for treatment, and then doing the treatments themselves? This is probably one of my favorite questions, I would say, and hear it because for me, it's kind of preface this by saying, for me, it's been a really long and personal journey, actually to try to answer this exact question. Growing up, I would say I never

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heard of a connection between Islam and mental health, I didn't even realize that there was one. In fact, when I personally entered into the field, there were a lot of naysayers around me saying, who's even going to come to you for help? Like, no, this is not something we do. And it turned out a lot of that sentiment was really much more cultural taboos kind of like we don't air our dirty laundry to strangers, kind of, you know, sentiment, which actually is shared by many communities, not unique to the Muslim community. And then I said, set up on this journey of figuring out what is the connection between Islam itself and mental health. And that's where a lot of the research, I've

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pulled up and published now on myself with my entire lab on historical understandings of mental illness, and treatments actually discovering amazing things like that talk therapy was used in historic Muslim communities. And most people don't even realize that, you know, don't realize that there's origins to that historically, within Muslim communities. I'm very interested in your comment about the cultural root versus the root in the in the faith and the tradition of the faith, because I think many of us don't, many people, including perhaps me, don't always think carefully about what's coming from the cultural background versus the faith tradition. And so can you talk a little

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bit more about that, because I'm imagining that people have trouble separating that because you grow up, and then both of them are intermingled, you know, that the holidays are both a family and civic event as well as a faith event? So how do you and I'm sure that these principles apply to all faiths, where there's a resistance, especially since mental health has come with stigma? And over the years? How do you start to untangle these very tight connections? Yeah, that's it. That's, I think that is the question of the day. So often, I find myself saying, Oh, is that cultural? Or is that something that's coming from the faith itself? And part of that is for me, it's actually been

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going back to the literature, the primary sources, the primary texts, the scriptures, of course, that has been very useful to be able to set you know, basically sets apart what is culture and what is religion. And it's been very eye opening, I think what I've been able to discover in this journey is that actually, the Islamic faith as a faith is very much in line with the concept of holistic health and healing. And so mental health is part of holistic health. It's, it's, you can't really even be physically well if you're not mentally well, and so and and I would add to that spiritually, well, so all of these are intertwined, Mind, Body Soul, I mean, that is really the essence of

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Islamic teaching. And so coming to that realization, had me then realized, wait a second. So what did what did the early scholars say about this? And that's where I was doing a lot of the reading of primary texts spend many years actually digging through those manuscripts, found amazing things like the discovery on the talk therapy and other forms of you know, OCD was discovered in the ninth century for example, in those papers phobia was discovered. And are these just just sorry to interrupt but are these actually discussed and described in the in the scriptures and in the, in the read in the

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original texts of the faith? So there so what happens is with a lot of the early Muslim scholars, what they're doing is referencing the Scripture. So their works as they're writing about and really contemplating and also classifying and diagnosing what is this illness they're seeing in front of them, they refer back to Scripture. And, and it's really interesting because they'll say things like, there is a prophetic saying, and a hadith Prophetic narration of the Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him that literally says, If God sends down an illness, there will also be sent down a cure, a treatment, and then says in a different statement you need

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to go seek out treatment if you're ill. So that really inspired so they can impetus that really inspires them to figure out how do you treat every every type of illness we see around us, including mental illness. So and I'm guessing that your knowledge of this isn't is one of many tools you have when when when interacting with a patient who might be hesitant. I also want to on this cultural distinction, I want to ask, are people willing to make that distinction, because I could imagine that some people, the cultural background is just as important as the faith, you know, they self identify. So I don't think it's not obvious to me that you could say to a to a patient, oh, by the

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way, this is very consistent with the readings of our faith. Because they might say, well, I also have cultural concerns. So I guess I'm asking how if a new patient comes to you, and I guess it's a big step to even come to you, right? Because that means they've already acknowledged, what does that conversation look like if one of the kinds of tools that you have to establish an alliance with that patient and like, make progress in their treatment? So let me share this with you earlier this month, I was at the American Psychological Association Annual Convention. And this is the first time in their entire history 130 Some years of their history to ever have on their mainstage a topic on

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mental health and religion. And so, yes, exactly. So it it's, I mean, it's it's kind of a new area within this field, but it's a growing area. And I found myself on that stage saying, the exact same sentiment of you need to all the providers clinicians in the room, you need to figure out actually, is this person self identifying more with their culture? Or more with their religion? Are they seeing themselves as a Muslim, American? Who is of Arab origin? Or are they an Arab who's living in America who happens to be Muslim, like, depending on the order that they put this in, these things definitely will play a bigger role in the conversation and the rapport that you build with them in

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therapy. So I'm guessing I'm not very familiar familiar with Muslim faith, but I'm familiar with other faiths. And I know that people sometimes say, I'm not going to a doctor, because this is a test from the Lord. And I'm, it's my duty to battle this, these demons. And to get help, too, especially to take a pill is really undermining the whole process of how I'm supposed to live my life. And I'm suspecting you've heard this. Tell plenty. Yeah, tell me how, how do we then address that issue, being respectful of the context, but also trying to push your agenda of a holistic treatment? Exactly, that, you know, the fancy term in our field would be to call this spiritual

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bypassing, where you essentially, you know, give this kind of almost like a rosy tinted glasses of like, that use a lot of religious kind of framework to explain what's happening, trials and tribulations was all by the way, maybe very well, the kite, the conceptual, the mental conceptualization that person has of their illness, that may be accurate to them. And that's very important, and not to minimize that in any way. Here, you know, rest, this is where my dual training has served me well, because I'm also trained formally in Islamic law and theology. And so it's really been helpful, actually, for patients that are on the more religious end of the spectrum, to

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say that say like, No, this is really a test from God, this is not something I need medications for. And we'll talk through that and being able to actually give insight, direct scripture and passages as they're reciting back, you know, kind of a friendly tussle a little bit sometimes. But often, I find that patients are

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kind of relieved, actually, to know that it's okay to take to seek out treatment to get help that they need. And that's actually encouraged by the religion. And so that's often more often what I find is the response. Very good. Very. So that's, that's good to know, though, of course, the question that comes up then is you have this spectacular training and preparation for this with your dual credentials, as you just described, we can't have all of the doctors with that dual training. So how do you evangelize? There's a loaded word? How do you evangelize these learnings that you have? I know you were on the podium at the meeting. That's great. But are there other ways in which

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you can transfer to practitioners some of these practices without them having to become Islamic Muslim scholars? Yes. Yes. Perfect. Perfect question. Yeah, this is actually after, after having my lab for, you know, the Stanford love the most Men's Health and Islamic psychology lab for we're about to celebrate the 10th year, we're like simulation. Thank you. And after some sort of, you know, a period of time I realized, you know, we really need something that's actually more community facing because they're going to be all these physicians, psychiatrists are gonna come forward, who won't be able to be dual trained. I mean, that's going to be the rarity. So what do you do? And we

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decided, actually, I helped co found a nonprofit that is attached to my lab that's called Mara Stan, which is import

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into and maybe I'll come to that what does this word even mean? Because it has historical meaning to it. But this nonprofit, one of the main things it does is actually take on the trainings you're referring to, it does a lot of the train the trainer's essentially model, where you're training people who are already in the field, but just are missing this extra portion. We've also written a book on traditionally Islamically integrated psychotherapy. So the tip model, which basically takes Islamic concepts, and integrates it into clinical psychotherapy. And so that is a four level training that people can attend, clinicians can attend, and actually learn how do you integrate

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Islamic concepts into the clinical training that you already have received from your masters or PhD programs, or MD programs. So this, this is great. And so now, just to dive a little bit more into that, so I have training as a general internist, and I know that I see lots of mental health

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issues in my patients. And in fact, as you well know,

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probably general internist, and primary care physicians see a huge number of patients. Is there a way to? I guess the two questions are, is there a way to also package it up not for your fellow psychiatrists, but also for the busy primary care physician? A and then B, I am asking two questions, I guess, are the principles for devout Muslims significantly different from the way you might approach a devout Christian or a devout Jew? Do we need to learn about these different faiths? And the different approaches? Or are there common threads that we can kind of lean on instead? Okay, a lot of questions. No, no, they're great questions. And I definitely been thinking about this quite

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a bit. And so I'll answer the second question first. Yes, there are definitely common threads between especially the Abrahamic faiths, there's just such a connection between all three of them. There's an a commonality that actually makes sense, including the concept of religious bypass, the spiritual bypassing, a lot of that happens, actually, all three faiths are developed, observant, you know, members of that community, those communities. And so what I'm finding actually is I'm finding myself actually doing trainings, it's really interesting, being a hijab wearing Muslim woman doing trainings in church, you know, for pastors and priests and so on, because there's such a level of

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commonality, actually.

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And, in addition, I would say, for the clinicians now, who are outside of the field of psychiatry. So recently, Stanford hosted their CME continued medical education program kind of hosted a training that I did that was really open to all clinicians. And it's this it was called, and it was a quick and kind of quick and dirty kind of like, hour and a half, two hours of the nuances like the unique aspects of what do you what happens when you work with a Muslim patient, and it was called pol centered, you know, holistic care for Muslim patients, right? And that, those are the kinds of things that I'm very passionate about doing because I want to make sure this message gets across the

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APA, the American Psychiatric Association actually is hosting on their website, a three hour training that's free now they're actually making it free. Usually, CME trainings, as you know, are not true or not free. But this is free. And I've recorded with my you know, my voiceover basically on this training about three and a half hours of how do you work with this population. So that's really the hope here. This is the future of everything with Russ Altman. More with Rania Awad next.

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Welcome back to the future of everything. I'm Russ Altman, and I'm speaking with Professor Rania Awad from Stanford University. In the last segment, Rania told us about some of the special challenges of ministering to the mental health diseases faced by the Muslim community in the context of those with deep faith. In this segment, she'll tell us about her nonprofit, Mara, Stan, and how there are lessons there that can help all patients from all faiths. I wanted to start out in the second segment asking about COVID-19, and what it was like for you and for that community, it was hard for everybody, and I'm guessing there were some special challenges, you know, definitely

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COVID-19 was such a difficult time. And, you know, two months into that lockdown was the month of Ramadan. And that particular month is the month of fasting for Muslims. It's also a very communal month, a congregational month where people get together, they break fast together, they eat together, they pray together. And it's there's such an emphasis on family and community.

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And all of that changed. And so, you know, we thought, myself, as you know, clinician and researcher, kind of really thought, I wonder how the community is going to do with all of this. And a group of us actually came together and did a study, and I want to share a little bit about that study. Yes. And it's, it was a global study was really interesting. You know, we kind of surveyed Muslims in the US, but also actually across the world. And it had about something like 10,000 people within the study, so a pretty big number of folks, and ask them things like, how are you doing kind of conceptualizing COVID? Like what was this a test from God? Is this kind of like a reminder of

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some sort as a punishment of some sort? What is their spiritual understanding?

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And then how does that correlate with their mental health? How are they doing because we saw the rates of depression and anxiety, even suicidality, go up everything sort of really mental health wise really go up in the pandemic. And it was so interesting the findings, Muslims that are observant, pray five times a day. And those prayers, I think what they did for so many people in the study, what they explained is they were anchor points. So even when people are on lockdown, and not going out and about and doing their typical daily kind of process, they still had an ability to kind of have no one night was and one day it was because of these kind of rich rituals that were in place

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this routine that was in place. And even though the congregation changed, or the month of fasting kind of changed without having community, there were all these alternative ways people were doing their breaking fast over zoom with their friends and FaceTiming with their family and things of that nature. But the mental health part was probably the most interesting to me. Because what we found is those who conceptualize COVID-19 is sort of more like a reminder from God, or a test and a tribulation, which is more aligned to the Islamic teachings versus like a punishment of some sort, actually had a much better outcome mental health wise, in fact, so much so that actually, I don't

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have anything, as a psychiatrist, I can give to a patient where I can say, there will be a 60% difference. And this was a 60% difference of those who reported that if they had this more positive outlook, they did not actually have the depressive symptoms or anxiety symptoms we were seeing with others. So I thought that was really fascinating. Does that give you anything actionable as a practitioner? Because it's it's hard to affect how people are going to interpret right? So the ones who were I don't I don't want to? I'm not sure I should use the word lucky. But the ones who had this positive attitude towards the, towards the pandemic seem to have done well? Do you think

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there's an opportunity to kind of for those who were thinking of it, perhaps as a punishment, and as something that was very negative? Is there an opportunity to move them? Yes. And I think this is where I was really inspired, in fact that the nonprofit I was referring to was born during the pandemic, because it occurred to me, while we have all this research, academic work, clinical work, but it's not really reaching the community that the the average everyday person. And so this, the goal here was, well, let's try to actually integrate aspects of spirituality and faith, as long as the person wants that, right. We kind of integrate that in with their clinical and their mental

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health kind of outcomes. And it actually turned out to work very well for this community. That's wonderful. That's great news. That's great. And so now let's go to the to the nonprofit use, you said that the name was Morriston, and it said that the word itself has some significance. So please tell us more about the word and about the roots of this nonprofit that you set up. Yeah, thank you this. So marriage standard is the Latin is a term that comes from the original Farsi or Persian term, B, Marsden and B Mar as the first half of that word, and it means illness or someone who's sick, a patient, and Stan like the all the countries that end with the word Stan is a location. So

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it's basically where a sick person goes as into, say, a hospital. And the Arabic term is daughter, she thought, which also roughly translates into a little bit closer to the meaning a place of healing and abode of healing. So they were more than just hospitals, they were actually healing centers. And well, so fascinating to me, this is in the research that I was telling you about going through the early primary texts and so on. I came then to realize after I, you know, bumped into and read a lot of these scholars works, I thought to myself, well, it wasn't all just theory, they were writing about mental health, or they actually put it into practice. And that's when I discovered the

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Mara stands that everywhere, Islam sort of spread. Yes, they built mosques everywhere they went and schools and so on. But mera stands were also a trademark, they were built in every society in which there was a Muslim majority presence. And this healing center was so unique, because unlike other hospitals parallel and prior to them and other civilizations, we don't see proof that there was psychiatric medicalized psychiatric care within those hospitals. And that was really neat. So psych wards literally are in these medicines, and that I was fascinated. And now we're really talking about rewriting the history of psychology because you can't find this in any of your psych 101 books

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at all. So just out of curiosity, is that the word that's currently used in any of the languages for hospital? Or is that was that a word that fell out of use? So it's continued to use in certain places. So even till now, people will, depending on the language they speak, they might still use that actual term be Morrison or medicine or medicine, or data sheet that there's other terms that have replaced it in modern languages. But yes, it's still a recognizable term. I'm also struck by your use of the phrase healing center because as you know very well, there's a concern, even among those of us in modern medicine, that hospitals and clinics have become very technical and

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medicalized and have lost the idea of the patient as a whole person who needs whole person healing. That's pretty obvious, actually, to most other people who are not medical professionals. I

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And so it's I'm guessing that there's a model here that it's extremely attractive for our modern day to kind of bring the human holistic part of healing back. We see sometimes we see this, especially like in cancer treatment where, you know, we know in many cases, we're not going to be able to cure the patient. But there's still many, many things we can do to give them quality of life and quality of mental health. So I guess my question is, are there learnings there that we're going to be able to take and bring to our modern, highly technical medicalized

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health system? Well, the book that I'm currently writing

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is actually called something to the effect of marriage stands as a model for modern healthcare and treatment. I mean, that's kind of the goal. My goal here, my goal is, I mean, it's a bit of a pie in the sky goal, but in a, you know, let's say tenure kind of goal, I would really hope, especially especially to psychiatric care, yes, they really all medical care, is to really bring that holistic healing concept back. And that means that you're really looking at all five senses. The Mind Body Soul is part of the conversation, and you're really making sure that it's not just, you know, pills that are taken or even just talk therapy in psychiatry, but really, everything all of the senses are

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healed. Yes. And I know that the patients want this and and it's not hard for them to see that that is often missing so Okay, so in the final minute, this Mara Stan idea. And what you've now told me is these are among the first recorded psychiatric units. What were they like? Because we have many, many images of very bad treatment of our mentally ill, you know, in asylums, basically, prisons, did the marathon give us please say yes, a better model for how this might go? These are not prisons at all. If anything, this is this is what I spent my sabbatical doing is actually going and visiting many of the the ones that are still standing today in Turkey, Cairo, other places, they're beautiful

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The basically what do you think about construction? Islamic architecture is very beautiful to begin with. And so we're talking about water fountains, we're talking about greenery, we're talking about really kind of even the acoustics to make sure sound therapy and music therapy was used in addition to the talk therapy, and of course, the medications. So just even you walk into this place and you feel healed just by walking in beautiful places. They're beautiful, beautiful places. Okay, that is wonderful. Thanks to Ron your wad. That was the future of Muslim mental health. You've been listening to the future of everything with Russ Altman. If you enjoy the podcast, please subscribe

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and follow it on your favorite podcast app. Also, please rate and review so we can grow. Finally, we have more than 200 episodes in our back catalogs and you might want to go through those to find the future of lots of stuff.

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