Changing the Mentality about Mental Illness

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Overcoming Mental Illness

The word depression is thrown around a lot and usually not taken seriously, when in fact, it is a serious matter. Depression falls on a continuum: it can be severe, or mild. Whatever the degree, action must be taken.

Overcoming  Mental IllnessThe recent story of our dear sister Narges, who is fighting severe mental illnesses, captured the attention of many around the States and probably around the world. Many were shocked, angry, but most were sad. First off, a Muslim woman, and second, a mother. As the details unraveled hour by hour, I heard different statements in the center, even at my workplace, or through on-line news story comments.

It hurt me to hear the question, “How can a mother do that?” It made me angry when I heard that question because her condition was explained, we all understood she is a mother, but we were missing the point: she had a problem. Fighting a mental disorder and illness is no joke. It is a serious, very natural, and humanistic matter. Unfortunately, instead of focusing on the problem, many focused on the shock.

As we are told, Allah has put wisdom behind everything. This story has been a jolting wakeup call for our communities. It has started a new found interest in addressing social issues and familial and life problems no matter where we come from. There is no reason that these things should be as much as a shock as they are. We are all human, and just because we are Muslim does not mean we are perfect. Just because we are from a certain country or family does not mean we don’t fall sick – mentally, physically, or spiritually.

As Muslims, we should be especially open to accepting problems and situations of any extremity and of any type, for we are taught in our beliefs that everything and everyone is from Allah, and that we as believers are a comfort for each other. There are various narrations which cover the aspect of brotherhood and social ties with our fellow brothers and sisters. There are countless verses in the Holy Qur’an and narrations which stress the importance of maintaining brotherhood and friendship so that we can be helpers to each other. Our Holy Prophet (peace be upon him and his progeny) said: “A believer gets calm near his believing brothers just as one who is thirsty gets calm when he drinks some cool water.”

The word depression is thrown around a lot and usually not taken seriously, when in fact, it is a serious matter. Depression falls on a continuum: it can be severe, or mild. Whatever the degree, action must be taken. We hope that going into the field of social services will become more common and accepted, as it is a dire need for our communities. Divorces, deaths, suicides, and mental illnesses are becoming more rampant and not being taken care of through the proper channels. We do not have enough Muslim therapists, psychiatrists, or counselors who can help in communities. Instead, our Muslim brothers and sisters are forced to go to therapists or psychologists who cannot offer an Islamic environment or even comfort which lies in our core values of spirituality that can help to guide one’s mind and soul.

One common example which is not considered enough is marriage. In most Islamic cultures, we consider the girl leaving her home. This may even require her leaving her hometown in which she has lived all her life. To go from home to a strange city miles away from her family is not an easy step to take. Maybe this girl hasn’t lived as much an independent lifestyle. Maybe she is highly dependent for emotional support on her friends, who will no longer be around her anymore. All this may cause many young girls who get married to fall into depression. They being to miss their families, their friends, and beg to go visit home, which in turn can anger the husband, and ding, ding, ding…round one.

Another common mental problem is identity crisis. Many of our youth are confused, don’t know who they are, where they belong. What are our communities doing about it? Do we shun those youth instead of strategically bringing them back to the right path? There has been a famous argument for years at most centers – the youth boys never sit in the prayer hall or attend the programs. They are always out on the basketball court! And the famous answer: At least they’re playing at the center.

And it is true, that is step one. Creating a good Islamic environment which is competition to the hundreds of other places our youth can be is a way to counter this identity problem.

One last illness, or condition, is the “mid-life” crisis. Believe it or not Uncles and Aunties, but your friends, or board of directors, can be going through this problem. Instead of addressing it, we only add fuel to the fire. Islam encourages social activity and relaxation – be it through spiritual or physical activity. During mid-life, most adults feel “useless” or feel they are underachievers. They are going through issues such as children leaving home or employment stress. This crisis can and will turn into depression if not taken care of.

The most important thing to remember is to be kind to anyone you meet. Going out of your comfort zone and asking a question that you may think is too “informal” might be saving someone from something that you had no idea about. Maybe you sharing a story from your life, about how you got through your children going to college, will help a fellow parent do the same. Asking someone to come over to your house for tea might help them feel wanted and welcome, instead of alone and scared. And if a severe problem is noticeable, help, don’t hide.

For ultimate guidance and true wisdom we only turn to Allah and remember what he says, “[But] no blame shall attach to the weak, nor to the sick, nor to those who have no means [to equip themselves], provided that they are sincere towards God and His Apostle: there is no cause to reproach the doers of good, for God is much-forgiving, a dispenser of grace.” (9:91)

For more information about Narges’ story, please visit http://www.narges.us

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