What’s that? The Quran is the source of my depression? Well not really. It’s not the Quran. It’s not Islam. It’s the baggage that we brought along with us into Islam that became exasperated through the religion.
What is Mental Health?
Mental health is our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. Mental health does not only affect the way we think, feel, and act but also how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices.
Mental health is not limited to emotional problems. For instance, if a couple is having difficulty getting along; if parents and kids are having trouble seeing eye to eye; or if a person is underperforming at school or work; then a counselor or therapist may be able to help guide the person to resolving their problems.
Whether mental health is caused by biological factors, life experiences, or family history, it is important to know that physiologically, the nervous system of a person has become stressed for such a long period of time, that it becomes overstimulated, which causes the systems of stress and anxiety to start occurring. Because the amygdala, which is the emotional center of the brain is part of the nervous system, this too starts behaving erratically, thereby causing the symptoms of anxiety and stress which causes people to become further worried and continue the cycle.
Psychology in Islam is used in everyday practices but under different guises, such as spiritualism. Islam values the importance of good mental health and emotional wellbeing. The Qur’an can be used as a guide to those suffering from emotional distress and aims to lead people to a meaningful quality of life. ‘There is no disease that Allah has created, except that He also has created its treatment’ (Hadith).
What actually happens?
If we were to take an fMRI video of neural changes that happen in our brain when we are told the word ‘No’, we would see a sudden release of stress-producing hormones and neurotransmitters. These chemicals immediately interrupt the normal functioning of our brain, impairing logic, reason, language processing, and communication. If the language is destructive or causes harm, the longer we are likely to ruminate on it. This can lead to damage to key structures that regulate our memory, feelings, and emotions. This in turn will lead to disrupted sleep, a change in appetite, and the ability to feel happy. Each time we vocalize this negativity, more chemicals are released in our brain, increasing anxiety, and irritability. This is the way cognitive neuroscience explains how destructive thought patterns and language can affect one’s mental wellbeing.
When our emotional needs are being poorly met, the nafs al-ammara begins to control our feelings, thoughts and behaviors. The Qur’an provides guidance to learn and practice relaxation exercises to weaken the influence of the nafs al-ammara. When it is in control, our thoughts are distorted leading us to take things personally, to see everything in a negative light, and believe that things can’t be changed for the better.
Over a thousand years before Western psychology was constructed, the psychological language of the Qur’an described destructive emotions and harmful conditioning as nafs al-ammara or the commanding self. The Qur’an gives guidance to help overcome the inner turmoil that we can experience, caused by the nafs al-ammara and bring the peaceful self or nafs al-mutmainna into being.
Stress- Defined as the body’s response to demand. Stress can cause physical, emotional, and behavioral disorders which can affect your health and peace of mind, as well as personal and professional relationships. Too much stress can cause relatively minor illnesses like insomnia, backaches, or headaches, and can contribute to potentially life-threatening diseases like high blood pressure and heart disease.
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder- An excessive feeling of fear or worry about things that are independent of a stress-causing event. General symptoms include problems such as sleeping, feeling of panic, cold or sweaty hands, dry mouth, shortness of breath, and not being able to stay calm.
- Panic Attacks – Sudden onset of intense fear and discomfort that reaches its peak within minutes and includes 4 of the following symptoms: increased heartbeat, trembling, sweating, nausea, feeling of choking, chest pain, dizziness, fear of losing control, fear of dying, feeling of unreality, and numbness or tingling sensations.
- Major Depressive Disorder – A feeling of constant hopelessness and despair. Consists of a combination of symptoms that affect the individual’s daily ability to work, sleep, eat and enjoy things in life. May occur only once, but more commonly appears several times throughout the individual’s lifetime.
- Marital Issues – Common disputes between spouses, family members involving physical abuse and/or psychological abuse.
What Is the Connection Between Mental Health and Islam?
- Spiritual Resilience – Islam offers a spiritual sanctuary for Muslims to live a peaceful life by using their inner strengths and having a strong relationship with the ultimate power, Allah, being optimistic, purifying their feelings, and not waiting for outside events to improve. Islam acknowledges the importance of spiritual status as an interior power that can be exercised to have a calm mind, healthy consciousness, and positive thoughts.
- Role of Patience – Islam attaches great importance to patience and it is the focus of about 200 verses of the Quran and referred to indirectly in many others. Patience is a virtue that enables Muslims to proceed towards worthy goals, undeflected by adverse circumstances or repeated provocations.
- Evil Eye (Ayn/ Nazar) – Belief in the evil eye is found in the Quran based on the following verse: “And from the evil of the envied when he envies,” [Al-Falaq (The Daybreak),113:5]. The concept of an evil eye is the belief that an individual can look at people, animals, or objects and cause harm due to jealousy.
- Spiritual Possession – The belief that Jinn has the power to possess an individual causing harm to the person and those around them.
What Are Some Misconceptions About Mental Health in The Muslim Community?
Mental health as a taboo subject in the Muslim community leads to embarrassment and fear for the members of the community who do have Mental illness. This is a serious issue that needs to be addressed so that those suffering can get the help needed.
Another misconception in the Muslim community is that mental health is associated with being “non-religious” or “not religious enough.” Many factors may contribute to the development of mental health issues, so it is not fair to oversimplify multifactorial medical conditions this way because it dismisses the potential role of mental health professionals in helping.
Many Muslims believe that today’s mental health issues are tests from God and therefore are not addressed.
A Non-Muslim mental health professional is going to impose their beliefs on you and is going to undermine your Islamic beliefs. The professional and ethical obligations of all mental health professionals are to respect your religious values and beliefs. If Islam and/or your spirituality is an important factor in your life, you should have an open discussion with your therapist or counselor.
As with any profession, you may like some counselors better than others. If you have or had a bad experience with a counselor and therapist, there are literally thousands of other counselors you can turn to and may offer a better experience.
If someone has faith in Allah they shouldn’t be depressed or have mental illnesses, should they?
As a Muslim, you get affected by life’s troubles and disturbing thoughts like everyone else, but you can deal with them much better because you have a clear roadmap of where you came from, where you are going and why, so you have a head start having this fundamental knowledge from its source.
Someone who feels completely lost and alone in the face of a crisis would probably feel helpless and depressed. But someone who feels supported by a compassionate God who genuinely cares, who listens to desperate pleas, and who grants generous help, has a better chance of getting back on track much faster because there is a strong helping hand to reach for while dealing with life’s troubles.
“And for those who fear Allah, He always prepares a way out, and He provides for him from sources he never could imagine. And if anyone puts his trust in Allah, sufficient is Allah for him. For Allah will surely accomplish His purpose: verily, for all things has Allah appointed a due proportion.” (Quran, 65: 2-3)
If we as a society are to move forward and remove the stigma associated with mental health, the first thing we should do is not emphasize unjustified prejudices and put more hate into the world. We should all push for the same common goal of love and humility in a place where people can live free from fear.