Anxiety disorder is the second most common mental health issue Muslim Americans deal with, according to The Journal of the Islamic Medical Association of North America [JIMA]. Many Muslim Americans attribute a large portion of this anxiety to “finger pointing” and discrimination following 9/11.
Organizations such as JIMA have not yet determined whether Donald Trump’s Islamophobic rhetoric have caused a statistically significant difference in these anxiety issues. Nonetheless, stories and insights from the Muslim community demonstrate Trump’s rise to political power has added layers of anxiety and exacerbated struggles Muslims have coped with since 9/11.
Talkspace reached out to our community of therapists to examine how Trump’s movement has affected their Muslim clients’ mental health and communities.
Trump’s Politics Has Increased Bullying of Muslim Students
Whenever there is a presidential election, parents discuss politics at home more frequently. Their children listen, taking the opportunity to parrot their parents’ views or develop a variation of them. Then they take these politics to the schoolyard to share them with fellow students. It seems harmless, but it can cause problems at school if the politics they hear is full of hateful rhetoric that targets a group of people.
Talkspace therapist Kamakshi Boyle sees an adolescent Muslim client who said white Christian students were bullying him because of his race and religion. These students affirmed their support for Donald Trump and his anti-Muslim beliefs while using racial slurs and other offensive labels.
“The school administrators asked the other students to say ‘sorry’ but did not engage any students in a dialogue on anti-Muslim bullying,” Boyle said. “Based on that experience with the bullies and the school’s response, my client has reported feeling very isolated and hopeless in his school community.”
This kind of bullying has been common since 9/11, but Trump’s political movement has empowered more people to target Muslims in high schools and colleges. One recent story that made national news reported on a Muslim college student who claimed a Trump supporter attacked him because of his appearance, shouting “Trump will win” and “Trump, Trump, Trump.”
The Footage and Coverage of Trump Rallies Has Been Terrifying for Muslim Americans
Rose Hamid, a Muslim woman who wears a hijab, was kicked out of a Trump rally after silently and non-violently protesting. As she left, Trump supporters booed and accused her of having a bomb, according to Hamid.
“The ugliness really came out fast and that’s really scary,” Hamid told CNN in a phone interview after she was ejected.
Muslim Americans see footage and coverage of rallies like this and feel an increase in anxiety. Talkspace therapist Wendy Hunter, who is African-American and practices Islam, was recently walking near a Trump rally and worried her safety would be at risk.
“That is the kind of anxiety Donald Trump presents,” Hunter said.
Do People I Know Support Donald Trump?
Imagine being Muslim and making a new friend. You think he or she is great, most likely not someone who would support a politician who demonizes your religion.
“People you think are not Trump supporters turn out to be,” said Talkspace therapist Noor Pinna.
When Muslims realize a friend, co-worker or acquaintance supports Trump, it creates new anxieties: “Would they treat me differently if they knew I am Muslim? Do they already know I am Muslim? If they know, are they thinking differently of me?”
This makes Muslims want to distance themselves from Trump supporters, Pinna said, even if these supporters might not agree with his Islamophobic statements. It has become another social anxiety Muslims struggle with.
Realizing Someone Might Hate Your Religion, Especially if That Person Is Trump Himself
Talkspace therapist Amira Doucette socialized with Trump in his home in Mar-a-Lago, FL during 2008 and 2009. She participated in a series of fundraisers where Trump and Bill O’Reilly were present.
“I can’t say Trump knew I was Muslim, but O’Reilly most certainly did,” Doucette said. “Whether or not they discussed it among themselves, I haven’t a clue.”
He seemed friendly and cordial, and Trump was not known for any Islamophobic rhetoric at the time.
“Donald Trump’s [recent] bigoted and racist comments certainly surprised me and increased my anxiety,” Doucette said.
Doucette’s experience with Trump alludes to anxieties other Muslims have about Trump supporters: the fear of people secretly harboring anti-Muslim beliefs despite seeming friendly toward Muslims.
Muslims Are Afraid to Call Out Parallels Between Trump’s Rise and Hitler
Muslims are far from the only people to draw parallels between Trump’s rise and Hitler’s Nazi Party or relate Trump’s proposals to shameful moments in history such as Japanese internment camps. Louis C.K. went on an email rant comparing Trump to Hitler and Sarah Silverman recently dressed as Hitler and participated in a fake interview where she pretended to be a modern-day Hitler who resented comparisons to Trump.
“Unanimously, my Muslim clients bring up what happened to the Japanese during WWII, and wonder why our country has not learned,” Doucette said.
The difference is Muslims Americans feel more anxiety after publicly expressing these criticisms, and some refrain from voicing them at all. They worry about a harsher backlash from Trump supporters or think people will say the analogies are unfair.
“Maybe I’m jumping the gun,” said Doucette, who has used analogies between Trump’s rhetoric and the Nazi Party. “But tell me, exactly when will I not be?”
Many Muslims believe they need to caution people now rather than allowing Trump’s support to grow without hindrance, but they are not sure how to do this in a safe way.
More Than Ever, Muslims Do Not Want To See Other Muslims On the News
When Muslims hear about a terror attack such as the recent Paris and San Bernardino incidents, many of them think exactly what Pinna does: “Please, God, don’t let it be a Muslim.”
When they learn the incidents do involve Muslims, another wave of the anxiety they have dealt with since 9/11 washes over them. Pundits make their rounds about how the Muslim community and Islamic leaders need to publicly and aggressively denounce the terror attacks, despite it being obvious Muslim Americans do not support terrorism. Muslims wonder if they should take to social media but worry it is only inviting more criticism.
Trump has exacerbated this anxiety due to the strong presence his campaign and supporters have on social media. He has become another powerful voice Muslims worry they will hear in response to terror attacks. Then there’s the anxiety of wondering what his supporters will do upon hearing that voice.
How Muslims Are Coping With These Anxieties
The feeling of anxiety Muslims experience from Trump is not fundamentally different, but he has burdened them with new concerns. A single person — instead of recurring events such as terror attacks or general policies — is negatively affecting their community. A man who wants to temporarily ban them from the country and register them in a database has a realistic chance of becoming president.
Nonetheless, their coping methods remain the same. They draw strength from their communities and faith.
“Muslims cope with these feelings by holding strong to their belief in God,” Hunter said. “This is what we have been doing and what we will continue to do.”
Pinna also mentioned various coping tactics within Muslim communities, including “halal potluck dinners,” educating and inviting non-Muslims, sharing experiences in a safe space such as therapy and practicing mindfulness.
Muslims find hope in positive news stories as well. Pinna referenced a series about Muslim college students where they debunk stigma and assumptions about Islam in America. Colleges have also launched new courses designed to combat unfair assumptions about Islam.
Despite Trump supporters using it to attack Muslims, social media has also become a powerful tool for Muslims to cope with anxiety. It allows Muslims to put the conversation in the open and invite people to educate themselves by posting statuses like, “If there’s something about my religion that confuses you or you’d like me to explain more, please message me.”
What the Future Looks Like for Muslims Dealing with Anxiety: Countering Trump’s Rhetoric
People report more hate crimes that target Muslims each year, according to Lori Peek, professor of sociology and author of “Behind the Backlash: Muslim Americans after 9/11.” When it comes to physical attacks, nothing has approached the levels immediately after 9/11, but there has been a steady increase in negative sentiment, marked by some “flashpoints” and upticks such as the Paris and San Bernardino attacks.
To counter Trump’s loud voice and negative effect on their community, Muslims need powerful political voices to support them and galvanize grassroots efforts, according to Peek.
“The problem is their microphone is smaller,” Peek said.
Understanding the issues Muslims face and how Trump has exacerbated them is one of many ways supporters can help the Muslim community upgrade their microphone.
Talkspace Social Media Manager and Content Editor Molly Enking had the idea for this post and edited it.