Tamerlan Tsarnaev, one half of the sibling duo suspected to have orchestrated the Boston Marathon bombing, reportedly showed signs of schizophrenia before the 2013 attack. But instead of seeking medical treatment for his symptoms, Tsarnaev’s mother Zubeidat Tsarnaeva opted for another kind of therapy -- spiritual counseling.
Farha Abbas, managing editor of the Journal Of Muslim Mental Health, discussed Tsarnaev’s condition and how his family allegedly addressed it during a HuffPost Live conversation about the contentious relationship between faith and mental illness.
“In the Boston bombing, the older brother actually had paranoid schizophrenia. He was hearing voices. He was hearing commands,” she said. “He approached his parents, but instead of taking him for treatment, they took him to a faith-based healer.”
As Rolling Stone detailed in its controversial cover story last year, Tsarnaev’s mother believed that Islam could "calm Tamerlan's demons." He then began taking lessons about Islamic teachings from his friend Mikhail Allakhverdov, during which Tsarnaev would “perform exorcisms."
“Religious delusions" like Tsarnaev's and thoughts of "grandiosity" are particularly common in psychosis, even among those who aren't religious, Abbasi continued. She explained that the reasoning behind his mother’s choice to seek a religious perspective may have stemmed from a fear of dissonance between the Tsarnaevs’ beliefs and a medical opinion.
“A lot of Muslim people were feeling like they wouldn't get the right kind of care because the Western-trained providers or people who do not understand Islam would not be able to understand their own problems,” she said.
This doesn’t mean that religion can’t have a place in mental health care. Abbasi stressed the importance of giving religious leaders the tools they need to deal with mental health queries and direct those in need to the correct medical specialists.
“It’s so important to use faith as an important tool to create more resiliency,” she said. “[Religious leaders should have] enough information that they can screen for suicide, they can screen for substance abuse or they can at least give an open safe space to start this dialogue."
Watch the full HuffPost Live conversation about religion and mental health here.
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