Hanin Alhubaishi is a passionate advocate for mental health in the Arab American community. On her path to college, the first-year UM-Dearborn student encountered stigma in her community around mental health issues. Both in her current role as vice president of the Arab Student Union and in her future career as a physician (she is studying biological sciences), she wants to shift the dominant discourse and attitudes toward mental health and create a more accepting environment for future generations.
Michigan Alum gleaned the following in a conversation with Alhubaishi.
DEARBORN IS HOME to one of the largest populations of Arab and Muslim Americans in the United States. Looking back on her childhood, Alhubaishi expressed appreciation for having grown up in a community that reflected her cultural and religious background.
“Stepping out of Dearborn for travel was a culture shock,” Alhubaishi says, adding that she encountered Islamophobia outside of her local community. “You get the judgmental stares, but not in Dearborn.”
DESPITE HER APPRECIATION for having been raised in a predominantly Arab and Muslim environment, the prevailing attitudes toward mental health proved harmful.
“I grew up with OCD, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and I saw the way that mental health stigma in my community manifested its way into my own life,” Alhubaishi says. Among the different types of OCD from which she suffered, the most damaging was religious OCD—the obsessive belief that she was failing in prayer and other dimensions of her religious life, leading to the belief that she was not a proper Muslim. Rather than believe that this was a legitimate form of OCD, however, Alhubaishi says that the adults in her life were dismissive.
ALTHOUGH SHE INITIALLY FELT ALONE, Alhubaishi found support online that validated her experience of religious OCD. “When I searched online, there were a lot of imams posting about it,” Alhubaishi says. Drawing on their interpretations of the Quran and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, she finally felt encouraged to seek treatment. “Reading the Quran helped me a lot,” Alhubaishi says, explaining how she identified the cause of mental health stigma. “I was like, ‘This is just culture. This isn’t religion.’”
GOING FORWARD, Alhubaishi aims to serve as a positive voice on mental health and its manifestations in the Arab American community. In her capacity as vice president of the Arab Student Union, she has sought to provide a platform for Arab youth to give back and educate themselves and others on Arab culture and traditions, while at the same time addressing issues of mental and physical well-being.
“We have the Arab Student Union, and we also have mental health organizations on campus. But what I want to do is create a space that can address mental health in MENA (Middle East and North African) populations,” Alhubaishi explains.
AS AN ASPIRING PHYSICIAN, Alhubaishi also hopes to integrate the sociological factors influencing health outcomes into her practice. Most importantly, she hopes to start a dialogue with older generations in the Arab community, educating others about the changing intersections of religion, culture, and the life of the mind.
“At first, I had no hope that I would ever get through to those around me,” Alhubaishi says. “But now I have, and I’ve gotten more than that. I’ve gotten help and support from them, too. Now I want to motivate the youth to do the same and tell them that it will get better.”
Alexander Satola, ’21, is a graduate of the LSA Residential College.