Young Muslims have spoken out about the impact lockdowns have had on their mental health in a bid to break social taboos surrounding the issue which they say exists in their community.
Hasnain Shafiq, who set up a barber shop where people can speak about their mental health after he lost three friends to suicide in the past year, is one of several young Muslims in Bradford breaking the silence on the issue to inspire solutions.
Mr Shafiq said: “It hurts you a lot because it’s somebody close to you. They [the suicides] had a huge impact on me and my mental health. Within the South Asian community you cannot speak about suicide.”
Community centre Khidmat is one of several organisations in the Bradford area that say they have seen a surge in referrals for young people experiencing mental health problems. They made a film about what they were seeing and to “give young people a voice”.
Ali Islam, a keen amatuer boxer, took part in the Khidmat film after he struggled during the lockdowns when his local youth club was closed.
He said: “Every day I was boxing and then… boom, lockdown. Complete silence. No boxing. Nothing. And that had a huge effect on my mental health.”
He added: “I was lonely. I had no one to talk to. There’s a thing called social media, but it’s not really social.
“My anxiety levels were going through the roof.”
As well as fighting his own fears about Covid, Ali says he had to deal with outsiders blaming his community for spreading the disease.
He said: “In our community we have a lot of people in a small household, people said you’re to blame for Covid because you’ve got a lot of people, you’re spreading the virus. But that’s not the case.”
Bradford is home to England’s largest Pakistani community. Many settled here in the 1950s and 1960s to help keep the textile mills running.
Historically, these multi generational households were more likely to experience poverty and deprivation.
Marium Zameer lives in a household of eight.
A few weeks into the first lockdown the 18-year-old was hospitalised with Covid.
She was put on a ventilator in an intensive care unit and was told by a doctor she may have to be put in a coma. She told the doctors she wanted to see her family “one last time”.
She said: “I don’t know if I’d ever go back to 100 per cent and I’m not just saying physically- even mentally. I don’t think I’ll ever go back to being who I was.”
In the end, Marium was lucky enough to avoid being put in a coma, but while she was in ICU her grandfather Mohammed Bashir was also hospitalised with coronavirus.
Marium’s grandfather died before she was able to see him.
The teenager told us was deeply affected by his death, adding: “A lot of people still don’t believe in Covid until today which kind of blows my mind.”
Written by Calum Fraser.