Negative Mental Health Impacts One Year into the Covid-19 Pandemic

A study that will allow experts to identify potential solutions that can be applied and/or tailored to other segments of the Muslim community

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By Erum Ikramullah

July/August 2022

Muslim Americans reported slightly higher negative mental health impacts than the general population. 

Muslims aged 50+ and Black Muslims have fared better than younger Muslims and Arab, Asian and white Muslims, respectively.

Since March 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic has impacted nearly all aspects of American life — our health behaviors, social interactions, shopping habits and work, as well as our school and home environments. It has also significantly impacted mental health. Lockdowns and physical distancing imposed isolation upon us. We had to deal with the stress of spending far more time together with household members and managing relationships. 

Then there was the fear and anxiety related to becoming, or having a family member become, sick, hospitalized or even killed by Covid-19. And if you were a frontline worker, you faced the additional stress of risking your life day after day. All of our minds and bodies have been working overtime to process and manage the many ways our lives were — and remain — affected.

The Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU) fielded a survey from March 22 to April 8, 2021, to assess Muslim Americans’ experiences of living through the pandemic for one year. The survey also provided comparisons to the general population. Our analysis reveals significant findings about Muslim Americans’ mental health during this period, as well as key differences among the community’s various subpopulations (https://www.ispu.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/Methodology-Public-for-Vaccine-Data-Early-Release.pdf?x46312).

Muslims Report Slightly Higher Negative Mental Health Impacts

Overall, Muslim Americans were slightly more likely than the general population to feel nervous, anxious or on edge nearly every day (11% vs. 7%); down, depressed or hopeless more than half the days (27% vs. 20%); and angrier more than half the days (23% vs. 15%). They were also slightly more likely than others to experience other impacts related to mental health, including difficulty sleeping (62% vs. 56%) and increased conflicts with household members for more than half the days (20% vs. 13%).

There were no gender differences in the community as regards experiencing negative mental health impacts. On the other hand, among the general populace, women were more likely than men to feel nervous, anxious or on edge for several days (40% vs. 29%); down, depressed or hopeless for several days (40% vs. 29%); and slightly more likely to feel angry for more than half the days (13% vs. 9%). Women in the general populace were also more likely than men to experience difficulty sleeping (34% vs. 27%) and increased conflict with household members on several days (25% vs. 18%).

Muslim Elders Report Fewer Mental Health Impacts

Muslims aged 18-29 and 30-49 were more likely than Muslims aged 50+ to experience negative mental health impacts, among them feeling nervous, anxious or on edge (65% and 63% vs. 44%, respectively); down, depressed or hopeless (61% among both 18-29 and 30-49 year olds vs. 42%); and angry (60% among both 18-29 and 30-49 year olds vs 47%). Younger Muslims were also more likely to experience difficulty sleeping (65% and 64% vs. 51%) and household conflicts (46% and 42% vs. 33%). We found the same pattern when looking at age differences in mental health impacts among the general populace.

Black Muslims Fare Better than Arab, Asian and White Muslims

When looking at mental health impacts by race, we find that among Muslim Americans, Black Muslims are the least likely to report negative mental health symptoms. When it comes to feeling nervous, anxious or on edge, 65% of Arabs, 63% of Asians and 69% of whites report any occurrence, compared with 42% of Black Muslims. Similarly, Black Muslims were the least likely to feel down, depressed or hopeless at all (41% vs. 66% of Arabs, 55% of Asians and 66% of whites), to be angry (41% vs. 63% of Arabs, 57% of Asians and 68% of whites), to experience difficulty sleeping (45% vs. 66% of Arabs, 63% of Asians and 68% of whites) and to experience increased household conflicts (26% vs. 50% of Arabs, 44% of Asians and 51% of whites). 

This pattern of racial differences is unique to the American Muslim community. Among the general populace, the study found that, overall, white Americans are less likely than Black and Hispanic Americans to report mental health impacts.

Muslim Americans, a community long thought to experience high levels of stigma around mental health disorders, may be reaching a turning point when it comes to accepting mental health issues. Recent research from the National Alliance on Mental Health suggests that for Americans, overall, the challenges of living through Covid-19 has engendered more openness about mental health challenges.

These findings also suggest several areas that require further research. Specifically, we need:

  • More data to capture if and how mental health challenges are evolving throughout the pandemic’s course and different phases.
  • A closer qualitative and quantitative look at Muslim subpopulations to better understand their unique stressors and thus develop solutions or therapies that cater to them — for example, younger Muslims.
  • To understand if racial disparities in mental health struggles are correlated to different degrees of internalized stigma in different races/cultures.
  • A closer qualitative and quantitative look at Muslim subpopulations that are faring better than other groups when it comes to mental health impacts — for example, Black Muslims. Such an analysis will allow experts to identify potential solutions that can be applied and/or tailored to other segments of the Muslim community.

Erum Ikramullah, research project manager at ISPU, manages the day-to-day activities of the organization’s research studies.

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