HEALTHCARE professionals in Scotland are likely to face an increase in cases of ethnic minority patients claiming to be spiritually possessed.

Staff at Amina Muslim Women's Resource Centre (Amina MWRC) in Glasgow and Dundee say they are experiencing a rise in clients attributing mental health difficulties to supernatural spirits.

Smina Akhtar, director of Amina MWRC, revealed that 70% of her counsellor's workload since 2012 involves dealing with issues related to the paranormal.

Speaking to the Sunday Herald, she said: "Many of the women who initially contact us want relationship counselling but after a few sessions they highlight the issue of possession by Jinn (in the Islamic faith, supernatural creatures made from fire) or that someone is practising black magic on their family.

"They do not feel confident in confiding in their local GP, fearing they will be ridiculed. They feel confident in telling us. For us primarily this is a mental health issue. However, you have some people who will blame their predicament on external factors.

"We would like the NHS to work with mainstream Islamic scholars and Muslim groups in helping such individuals. Faith-based support should be offered as long as it does not contradict or oppose conventional medicine or treatment."

Earlier this month, Amina MWRC, in conjunction with the Rationalist Society of Pakistan, held an event titled Jinn, Black Magic and the Evil Eye: Fact or Fiction?

The organisation is also working with the University of West of Scotland social work department, which is undertaking research regarding health inequalities, with particular focus on the phenomenon of Jinn possession.

Akhtar fears that vulnerable individuals will turn to alternative options if their concerns are ignored by health officials.

She added: "More and more people are turning to 'faith healers' who promise to remove Jinn from themselves or their loved ones. They advertise their services on foreign TV channels that are beaming into many Asian households. They give assurances but their help comes at a price.

"They don't work for free. But who regulates them? My concern is that those who are desperate, especially females, will turn to unscrupulous individuals putting them and their families in danger."

Attempts to cure those who are possessed can lead to fatal consequences. Two years ago a husband and three members of his family were jailed in Birmingham after he killed his pregnant wife in a bid to remove an evil spirit from her body.

Abdul Aziz, a Scottish-based Islamic scholar, also spoke at the event organised by AMINA MWRC. He believes that despite the issue of Jinn being widely accepted among Muslims, possession is "possible but extremely rare".

He added: "Unfortunately, the Muslim community are no longer pioneers in treatment of emotional ill health and have resorted to un-Islamic notions of spirit possession as an explanation for everything from bad luck and marital infidelity to schizophrenia.

"Many use religion to exploit the vulnerable. The stigma associated with mental illness and the reliance on poorly qualified so-called Imams are major barriers to Muslims accessing the right kind of social, emotional and psychological help."

The panel also included Dr Najat Khalifa, an associate professor and consultant forensic psychiatrist from the University of Nottingham and Nottinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust. His research interests include religion and mental health, personality disorder and offending behaviour. His advice to his colleagues north of the Border is that they should be open to a faith perspective relating to their patients' problems.

"Evidence from research suggests that some Muslims perceive psychological difficulties as indicative of an unsound spiritual heart. This can lead to conflict between orthodox medicine and religiosity and patients may use a range of religion-based coping strategies without telling their doctor," he said.

"The issues that arise out of working collaboratively with religious leaders need to be explored in more depth, and further research could examine how this happens in practice, identifying potential pitfalls and areas of good practice."