Mental Health Help-Seeking in South Asian American Muslims: The Role of Cultural Beliefs, Attitudes, and Knowledge



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



Background: Islam is one of the fastest growing religions in the U.S. It is imperative for mental health researchers and clinicians to learn about group differences among South Asian American Muslims to avoid misconceptions and stereotypes. Purpose: This study examined if there are differences in (a) cultural beliefs, attitudes, and knowledge and familiarity towards formal mental health help between three South Asian Muslim groups—Sunni, Shia, and Ismaili—controlling for the effects of age and generational status; (b) cultural beliefs, attitudes, and knowledge and familiarity between men and women; and (c) preferences towards seeking formal (physicians, mental health professionals) versus informal (family, friends, and religious leaders) mental health resources based on Muslim group. Method: Participants included 252 South Asian American Muslims. Measures included demographics, the Cultural Beliefs about Mental Health Problems scale, the Attitudes Towards Seeking Formal Mental Health Services scale, the Knowledge About and Familiarity with Formal Mental Health Services scale, and an author-generated measure of preferences towards formal versus informal mental health resources. Results: A one-way between-groups MANCOVA, controlling for age and generational status, was conducted. Sunnis endorsed the most traditional cultural beliefs, compared to Shias and Ismailis. Shias endorsed the least positive attitudes and the least knowledge and familiarity, compared to both Sunnis and Ismailis. Women endorsed more positive attitudes and knowledge and familiarity than men but there were no significant differences for cultural beliefs. Shias preferred reaching out to informal support first while both Sunnis and Ismailis preferred reaching out to formal support. Conclusion: Results suggest that mental health help seeking in South Asian American Muslims is complex, especially when it comes to cultural beliefs, and can have implications for engagement in seeking formal services. Clinical implications are discussed and suggestions for future research provided.



South Asians, South Asian Muslims, Muslims, Sunni, Shia, Ismaili, Help-seeking, Mental health, Cultural beliefs, Attitudes, Knowledge