On Friday, March 22, the Colgate Muslim Students Association (MSA) sponsored a Brown Bag to talk about mental health issues on campus and discuss the ways Islam is relevant to mental health.

Esther Rosbrook, MSA’s faculty advisor, led the conversation with Najla Hrustanović, a counselor at Colgate’s Counseling Center.

When asked what first got her interested in mental health, Hrustanović touched upon her past, moving to the United States from Bosnia with her family in 2001 as refugees.

“[My] own personal history [and] all the struggles and challenges [my family has] endured [led to an] innate drive and interest [in mental health],” Hrustanović said.

She said that her family history led her to be passionate about working with international students and students from marginalized groups. Hrustanović sees between 20 and 30 students a week and said that the most common complaint among students at Colgate, like other colleges, is anxiety. However, Hrustanović said that people should not talk about mental health without talking about suicide.

A report by the American College Health Association (ACHA) found that in 2016 52.7 percent of college students “reported feeling that things were hopeless.” In 2018 ACHA also published that 62.3 percent of college students “felt overwhelming anxiety anytime in the last 12 months.”

Hrustanović articulated the role that spirituality and religion can have on a student’s treatment of mental health issues. The connection to a community can be a “catalyst to heal.”

She pointed out that Islam and the Qur’an discuss what today would be called cognitive behavioral theory in the Qur’an’s three descriptions of the psyche. One of the selves, the peaceful self, is the one that results from contentment.

“[I feel] most connected to God when I have inner peace,” Hrustanović said. “[This leads to the development of a] greater sense of purpose.”

The Qur’an also lays out different methods to alleviate the reactions to the selves to increase inner peace. Hrustanović pointed out that someone does not need to be Muslim to understand the concept of the self or to utilize positive self-talk when feeling overwhelmed.

A common phrase used among therapists is “show up with an open heart.” Hrustanović said that she connects this to the “mercy of Allah;” she tries to keep herself open to other beliefs and cognizant of judgments that she may be passing.

Stigmas against mental health professionals, issues and treatments such as medication can make it difficult to inform communities about mental health. Hrustanović said that education, especially about medication, has been very helpful in changing the stigma.

First-year Bonnie Chin said the topic of the brown bag is applicable to greater society.

“We as a society need to learn to destigmatize and educate ourselves on [mental health], but that starts locally with our community and how we choose to talk about it,” Chin said.

Hrustanović passed out flyers with information about mental health and how to help loved ones who may be suffering in addition to cards with phone numbers to call if you or a loved one is experiencing suicidal thoughts or actions. Hrustanović explained that if a student is worried about a friend, the Counseling Center can assist in brainstorming ways to get that friend help.

The Brown Bag was followed by a vigil in remembrance of the 50 people killed in the attacks in Christchurch, New Zealand and the Friday Jummah prayer in the Chapel.

The Counseling Center can be reached (Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m.-12 p.m., 1:30 p.m.-5:00 p.m.) at 315-228- 7385 and after hours by calling Campus Security.

Contact Isabelle Sapountzis at isapountzis@colgate.edu.

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