‘In memory of my mum, let’s change the way we talk about mental health’

Reading Time: 2 minutes

A MAN is campaigning to raise awareness of mental illness in the Somali community after his mother took her own life. Adnan Hashim, who lives in Camden Road on the St Pancras Way Estate, lost his mother Zahra Sharif in October to mental illness.

“The whole community in Camden knew my mum. They knew my mum as being kind, giving food to the neighbours. It was a shock to all of us, because she passed away in the same place we grew up, on our estate,” he told the New Journal.

Mr Hashim said Zahra had overcome cancer in 2019 but had struggled mentally at the time and afterwards. “She wouldn’t sleep, she battled with depression, with anxiety,” Mr Hashim said. She went “constantly back and forth to the hospital,” and tragically took her own life shortly after she was discharged.

By talking about his mother’s death, Mr Hashim hopes he will be able to change attitudes to mental health within his community.

“Especially in the Somali Muslim community, if you were to say to them: ‘this person has mental health [problems],’ they wouldn’t believe it at all. Within the Somali community it’s been neglected,” he said.

“It’s a cultural thing, people don’t acknowledge it until it happens to them. It’s normal to feel depressed. You should not go into your house and keep your thoughts in your head, that will damage you physically and mentally, and it’s good to speak out.”

He added: “In Islam religion… if a person suffers from mental health, they firstly read the Holy Quran upon that person,” he said.

“The Somali community tend to stay on the Quran – they don’t like to seek medical attention [for mental illness]. They say: do not tell the hospital, do not tell your friend, keep this to yourself, people are going to think you’re weird. Leave your situation at home and don’t talk to no one outside.

“The truth is you should go seek help from your peers or medical attention. Don’t stay at home, go and seek help.”

In the aftermath of his mother’s death, Mr Hashim began fundraising for the “Z Sharif Foundation”, which he hopes will “build community for mental health awareness”. He has so far raised £73,000 of a £100,000 target.

While the foundation currently operates largely on social media platforms including TikTok and Instagram, Mr Hashim hopes to use the money as a deposit “to build a mosque specifically in Camden”. He is still “trying to find a location” for the mosque, which he will name after his mother.

Mr Hashim said he wants to create a “physical hub where people come in and speak. People do not want to go to the hospital and speak, people would rather go into a community hub, a centre, where they can talk to someone, and that’s what I’m aiming to build.” But he added all people, irrespective of race or religion, will be able to seek help in his mosque.

“It’s not only the Somali community that’s suffering, it’s everyone that’s suffering,” he said. “I’m doing it for my mother, I know it’s something my mother would have wanted me to do, to continue her legacy.”

By Anna Lamche