Dr. Farha Abbasi, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry at Michigan State University, continues to embellish her reputation as both a scholar and healer, by helping many Muslims and others overcome the challenges of mental and emotional distress. She credits her success to numerous mentors she found during her time in the American Psychiatric Association’s Minority Fellowship Program. One, Dr. Linda Peterson, chief medical officer at McLaren East Lansing in Michigan, helped steer her into psychiatry. “I was an internist in residency at McLaren,” Dr. Abbasi remembers, “when Dr. Peterson recognized my abilities as a psychiatrist.” Dr. Abbasi completed her education at Michigan State and later joined the faculty where she met Dr. Jed Magen, now chair of the Department of Psychiatry, to whom she also attributes in her success.
Another influential mentor was Dr. Annelle Primm, the director of the American Psychiatric Association’s Office of Minority and National Affairs and overseer of the MFP program. Dr. Abassi credits Dr. Primm with helping her find her career path. Other mentors include Dr. Francis Lu at the American Psychiatric Association Foundation and Dr. Ranna Parekh, the Director of APA’s Division of Diversity and Health Equity and current overseer of the APA’s Minority Fellowship Program. Dr. Abassi says the MFP “completely turned my life around.”
Dr. Abbasi emigrated to the United States from Pakistan in 2000, with her husband and three children, just prior to the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. It was as if she had arrived at the time she was needed most. She had begun her medical training in Pakistan, but it was here that she began her work in psychiatry. She found that many in the Muslim community, though suffering anxiety and trauma because of the backlash that resulted from the tragedy, were not accessing treatment—and understood how deeply religious people often were stigmatized by the notion of needing mental health services.
In a recent interview with Alternet, Dr. Abassi shared her determination to work against the forces that continue to batter Muslim communities, which she believes have gotten worse since the election of President Donald Trump. She stated that Muslim children are twice as likely to be bullied as the average American child and that social media has been a particularly egregious platform for the rantings of white supremacists. All of this adds up to emotional distress and trauma, which Dr. Abbasi has been fighting for more than a decade.
Supported by the MFP Fellowship, she inaugurated a Muslim Mental Health Conference
in 2008 that will celebrate its 10th year this month at the Institute of Peace in Washington, D.C., March 15th through 17th. Dr. Abbasi is also launching a global mental health outreach, building on her work in Malaysia and Jordan, and is planning a global Muslim Mental Health Conference in Dubai. She has received numerous awards for her groundbreaking work in providing psychiatric care to Muslims, including the 2017 APA Foundation Award for Advancing Minority Mental Health. She will receive an award this month from the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) of Michigan, along with U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow.