The whole person, not just the brain

Mohammad Shabbir, CEO, Sharing Voices Bradford

I have personal experiences of living with an uncle who has been in the mental health system for a number of decades, labelled with ‘schizophrenia’. The label covered and hid the underlying problems that he was dealing with as a young migrant to the country, a young man who loved his parents, wanted to become a doctor and be with his friends. He ended up in Bradford, I suspect without much consultation, working in a factory and, as they say up north, ‘grafting’.

I can understand the disability he suffered from getting this label: Who could he talk to? How could he share his feelings? And when he couldn’t deal with it personally any more he lashed out. My uncle was silenced by the label and to this day remains distant from his wife, children and wider family. And so I question a monolithic system that seeks to do away with personal distress and the desire to express it, I question a system that sees the expression of the distress of an Inuit as the same as a Pakistani or an Indian Dalit, Brahmin, Sikh, Muslim woman or man. This system, at best, parks culture, language, spirituality and ways of understanding the world and distress. At worst, it sees these as the problems and precursors of a person’s illness.

At the opposite end I feel that cultures evolve and mix and therefore there is a great deal of western tradition which I find important and useful that needs to be rediscovered by my own tradition and therefore in my personal life and work life I seek to bridge the two. I do this by using my faith (Islam) and its culture to be a guide in this regard.”