Depression, Lying, and Suicide among Muslim Youth
Minor emotional problems can lead to bigger issues. In past days, especially in our Middle Eastern and South Asian cultures, emotions were not looked at in terms of being important and even life changing. Even now, if we were to survey and get honest answers, or were able to observe families from these cultures, many still believe that emotions and feelings are not a “real” reason for depression or chronic abnormal behavior.
Working at a private Islamic school in America, I have come across many students with various backgrounds. From single parents and low-income families to middle-class families and kids with chauffeurs, the stories are many. Unfortunately, not all of the stories have happy endings.
Here are just a few recent happenings: a middle schooler (age 11-13 years old) openly admits to suicidal thoughts and with signs of cutting herself. A high school student with a chronic lying problem telling students and teachers she was pregnant and had an abortion when in 8th grade, getting married in 9th grade, working jobs in 10th grade, and the lies continued. Other students are seen with extremely low self-esteem and confidence, or the extreme opposite with arrogance, which in actuality are just their defense mechanisms in action. College students now believing they are gay or lesbian because they saw their parents in an unhappy marriage. These are all examples from Muslim families.
So what have we been doing to address these issues in our communities? Islam has been in America for decades now. What have our years come to show our teachings? Counseling centers? After-school empowerment programs? Big brother, big sister programs? Homeless shelters? Financial aid programs?
We definitely have the community centers in place, but the things that go on in them are not community building. Congregational prayers, supplications, dinners, and occasional programs are one thing, but when are our centers going to offer realistic services which will help the general welfare of the people?
Here is the deal: as Muslims with children living in this society, we must be aware of what is going on around us, in our own lives, and in our communities. Only when we discuss and openly admit to the problems in our lives will we be able to have solutions. It would be a wonderful thing to ask our speakers who come in Muharram, along with addressing Hijab and modesty, to maybe focus on the current issues that are happening in regards to girls and their self-esteem, relate it to how Hijab is a solution, but more importantly, what are the steps to take to raise the girls’ or women’s self-esteem so they are confident enough to cover up what, in their minds, is all they have.
We need to begin to discuss and have dialogues about the rise in drugs and drinking. We are afraid to even speak the words in our centers, while the youth who we so assertively complain about not being in the center on a Friday night are out in clubs drinking and doing drugs. Why are they doing these things?
This is the question we need to ask. Why are Muslims students, who are a part of this beautiful religion, so unhappy? Don’t they know how much Allah loves them? Or are they unaware? Have they ever been told? Are they told regularly?
Don’t they have trust in Allah’s decisions for their lives? Have they been trained to think that way? Or have we put in more efforts in other arenas of Islamic awareness?
Once we accept these problems, we can build upon solving them. The more time we spend making our children “masjid-goers” who come, attend, eat, pray, socialize, and go home, the less time we spend in having dialogue within our communities, the less time mothers are talking to other mothers about how they have sons and daughters who are emotionally depressed, the less time fathers are discussing with other parents about how they have no relationship with their daughters, the less time families are sharing with other families about positive things they do at home to help the atmosphere be healthy and happy, and the less time siblings are discussing with other siblings in other families about how they hate when their younger siblings “annoy” them. Instead, these issues are “shameful” and taboo and not talked about, resulting in more and more parents getting depressed when they eventually cannot take the instability of their child’s behavior and thinking, or when they eventually find out what their kid has been up to.
Think of the last time your community held an awareness program about something other than political issues or natural disaster relief. I am in no way putting them down, but isn’t Islam all about moderation? We cannot turn a blind-eye to everyday problems which, if solved, will be the foundation to a strong and stable society or community. Why do we think that if we drown our kids in “Qur’anic memorization” quizzes and prizes that they will automatically be wonderful spouses? What guarantees that will make them love to pray? Sure, incentive is a wonderful thing, but do we really think that is enough?
Divorce happens. Depression happens. Domestic violence happens. These are all real things that have happened, are still happening, and need to be stopped. The effects are taking a toll on our younger generations, and when they are not getting the advice, guidance, and help they need, it is affecting their future years, the direction of their life goals, and their perspective on life.
The book Ahl-ul-Bayt, Ethical Role Models states: “Individuals are the bricks of society, whose happiness is achieved when they are pleased and granted their social rights. In the same way, social depression occurs when they are depressed and deprived of their rights…”
We need to make sure we are not oppressing the rights of any members of our societies. When we know these problems exist, we must come together and have a plan of action to make sure that our future will be in the hands of stable, passionate, and God-trusting individuals. If our future leaders are already broken individuals with low self-esteem, no confidence, and no goals or directions in life, we need to be providing the map and the keys to building it all up.
It is about time our “community centers” step up to the challenge of providing an outlet and a platform for solving the real social and family issues of our communities. If we are not doing step one, which is to at least bring awareness to parents and families, then we are not following in the footsteps of our dear Holy Prophet and Ahlul Bayt (peace be upon them) who provided complete solutions for the economic, political, and social problems of our lives. Sure, they were exemplary individuals who were infallible, but at the end of the day, they were still mothers, fathers, children, relatives, government leaders, teachers, business owners, and students.
We have the facilities. We have the talent. We have microphone systems, food, and people. We definitely have the problems. What is our excuse?