Mental Health in the Muslim Community
إِنَّ مَعَ الْعُسْرِ يُسْرًا
Indeed, with hardship [will be] ease. (Quran 94:6)
Experiencing mental stress is a very human condition; it’s a condition that does not discriminate nor is it always experienced the same way. In hindsight, they are experiences that allow us to grow and ultimately find resilience within ourselves.
Mental health is about how we process the world around us. It’s about the influences that shape our world view and all within. It takes into consideration how we feel, remember and interact with various aspects of our day to day lives.
However within the Muslim community, the way we currently view and treat mental illness poses damaging, long term risks for the most vulnerable of our community.
In Australia, almost half of the population (45%) will experience a form of mental illness in their lifetime; the most common of mental illnesses being depressive, anxiety and substance use disorder. Mission Australia’s 2014 Youth Report correlates these findings with just over a fifth of young Australians having met the criteria for a probable serious mental illness. Suicide is the leading cause of death for Australians between the ages of 15 to 44; with more than 8 individuals choosing to die by suicide each day in Australia.
Despite the commonality of mental illness, many members of our community will experience discrimination and stigmatisation for the internal struggles they face. Over 60% of young people in Australia with a probable serious mental illness are not comfortable seeking information, advice or support from professional services.
The stigmatisation of mental illness encourages a continued culture of redundancy where we end up delaying important conversations of growth and change. We maintain an attitude of triviality towards seemingly modern issues. In doing so, we leave many of our community members unequipped to process new experiences while still expecting them to maintain both a spiritual and worldly balance without the support they need.
In the Muslim community, there is a disconnect between how we currently view mental illness and later attempt to treat mental illness. There is a lack of general knowledge on the true experiences of mental illness versus the social perception of what it may be. We end up discouraging those in need from seeking necessary support; leading them to experience the ultimate sense of loss. Left uncared for, this traumatic state of mind has the potential to worsen one’s mental, physical and spiritual condition.
There is unrecognised power within the internal self. Because of this, we tend to overlook our own potential and dismiss learning about it in favour of maintaining our physical, outwardly condition.
In a society so centred around competition, there are many instances where we lose ourselves to a one-sided battle against the world. We lose the ability to love and trust ourselves by constantly comparing who we are now to what we COULD have been.
But indeed, Allah SWT is the best of planners.
وَلَقَدْ خَلَقْنَا الْإِنسَانَ وَنَعْلَمُ مَا تُوَسْوِسُ بِهِ نَفْسُهُ ۖ وَنَحْنُ أَقْرَبُ إِلَيْهِ مِنْ حَبْلِ الْوَرِيدِ
And indeed We already created man, and We know whatever his self whispers within him, and We are nearer to him than the jugular vein. (Quran 50:16)
The Muslim Community and Mental Health
The biggest hurdle for those going through any sort of mental stress is the internal and external stigmatisation of their psychological vulnerabilities. As a community, we lack the ability to acknowledge mental health as a genuine health concern and end up pushing away those who are already on the sidelines of the perceived ‘norm’.
Internalised stigmatisation is rooted within communal ignorance. Mental struggles are dismissed as being the influence of jinn or having a lack of faith. We become unable to diagnose the root cause, pushing families to take extreme measures in hopes to treat the problem.
This begins the ripple effect where we become overly invested in a false sense of righteousness; of ‘doing good’. We chase a narrative we want to see rather than the true narrative in front of us; further creating a social divide and continuing a cycle of neglect.
By creating dialogue around the issue, we hope to educate the masses on mental health literacy as well as encourage those in need to seek help within a positively responsive environment.
Understanding Mental Health
“You will not know Allah SWT until you know yourself.”
In order to seek our cures, we must first work towards understanding ourselves. We must encourage a culture of empathy to ultimately empower and elevate one another; especially the more vulnerable in our community who go unnoticed and uncared for. It is our responsibility to ensure these individuals are taken care of and receive the support they need.
To break it down, there are 5 elements of the self that everyone needs to work towards understanding and elevating:
- The body: to be clean and healthy
- The soul: to be illuminated
- The nafs: to be disciplined
- The heart: to be purified
- The intellect: to be governed
These elements of the self work together in order to shape the way you process and understand the world around you. They are at the core of every being and shape one’s core beliefs, morals and values. They can be influenced by a multitude of different livelihood variables such as culture, lifestyle, their education, location etc.
Based on the condition of these elements of the self, we search for meaning, belonging and relationships within our day to day lives.
As we grow, our preconceived notions of the world are challenged; forcing us to adapt and evolve. When we fail to understand and process these changes, we undergo various mental stresses that contribute to our loss of confidence and purpose.
However, it is important to remember that these struggles do not determine your spiritual state.
You are able to have faith and still go through challenging mental stresses. While we may tumble as human beings, our connection to Allah SWT is never entirely lost.
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا اسْتَعِينُوا بِالصَّبْرِ وَالصَّلَاةِ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ مَعَ الصَّابِرِينَ
O you who have believed, seek help through patience and prayer. Indeed, Allah is with the patient. (Quran 2:153)
We maintain our connection to Allah SWT by working towards bettering ourselves each and every day. May that be through practical or spiritual methods of coping with our vulnerabilities; our consistent ability to bounce back from these hardships is a powerful strength that can only truly be harnessed within the mind.
Misconceptions of Mental Illness:
وَمَا أَرْسَلْنَا مِن قَبْلِكَ إِلَّا رِجَالًا نُّوحِي إِلَيْهِمْ ۚ فَاسْأَلُوا أَهْلَ الذِّكْرِ إِن كُنتُمْ لَا تَعْلَمُونَ
And We sent not before you except men to whom We revealed [Our message]. So ask the people of the message if you do not know. (16:43)
* It is important to note that your sheikhs are not psychologists. You should seek your sheikhs for religious advice and mental health professions for psychological assistance.
We need to think of mental health as the complex relationship between the spiritual, the social, psychological and physical factors of one’s life before imminently jumping into supernatural speculations of the cause.
An accurate assessment of one’s situation requires knowledge founded upon some form of formal study. In many instances, people tend to over exaggerate and fantasise about the probable causes of mental illness -fueling its misconceptions.
The belief that jinn can cause mental instability is a common belief held within the Muslim community. However for many, it is easy to relate our problems to the doings of the supernatural. In order to protect ourselves, we must first understand what exactly the jinn are and how they work.
While jinn possession can influence and affect human beings, the extent of their involvement is another question:
- Dreams: You are able to protect yourself through protective dua’s such as the recitation of the three ‘Quls’. It is advised that you do not let your dreams frighten or concern you as you don’t know the true origins of the dream.
- External affliction (Whispers): Does not have a long lasting affect — it is all short term. A person is able to quickly recover by performing ablution, prayers and remembrance of Allah.
- Internal affliction (Possession): Jinn possession is very rare. Had it been a common occurrence, we would see way more instances of jinn possession than we currently do. We should ensure that we do not blow probable instances of jinn possession out of proportion as:
- Not all jinn can possess a human
- Not all humans can be possessed
- The jinn are slaves of Allah — they won’t (and can’t) do anything that He won’t let them
- Jinn are extremely weak -they are more afraid of us than we are of them. The moment you begin to recite Ayatul Qursi, a jinn ‘blows’ up internally and is destroyed
- Not all jinn aim to possess humans
- Humans have the protection of Dua’, Wudu and Quran
The Quran can be used as a source of healing for spiritual and physical illnesses. It can be used to motivate one mentally and also ease one’s physical sickness such as headaches and toothaches.
فَاذْكُرُونِي أَذْكُرْكُمْ وَاشْكُرُوا لِي وَلَا تَكْفُرُونِ
So remember Me; I will remember you. And be grateful to Me and do not deny Me. (Quran 2:152)
One’s journey of the self is completely individual. The day to day challenges we face are ultimately experienced within the scope of our own mind. However, do not fear as regardless of where you are mentally, spiritually or physically, Allah SWT will always be watching over you.
If you are suffering from a mental illness, may Allah SWT ease the pain in your heart and fill it with joy. Patience does not mean silence. Please remember to reach out and seek assistance; you do not need to be alone.
If you or someone you know is having difficulty dealing with their mental health, talk to your local GP or contact these programs.
Want to know more about this topic? Have pressing questions you want answers to?
This and other pressing issues will be discussed at the Awakening the Islamic Spirit Conference.