Depression

To commemorate world mental health day, 10/10/2011, I thought I’d write a post about the most common mental health problem people suffer from depression.

Depression is more than just feeling down or temporarily unhappy, and depression doesn’t come in just one form. Many things can affect our mood and increase our risk of falling into depression. Some risk factors include traumatic childhood experiences, conflict, unemployment, genetic predisposition, stress, boredom, bullying, childbirth and many other things and if you’re a woman, you’re more than twice as likely to seek treatment for it. Current numbers indicate that depression is on the increase and the current statistics state that between 8-12% of the population experience depression in any year with half them getting better after 18 months. (source)

The French philosopher Descartes once said “I think, therefore I am”, and when it comes to depression this is key to our susceptibility and prognosis because the contents of our thoughts have a major influence on our emotions. Our outlook on life, our attitude to our own situation, how we interact with our environment all have a major impact on how we perceive the world. If, for example, you feel unloved, the world will appear unloving, and if you continue to have this kind of outlook and continue to tell yourself that you will never be loved then it will lead you on a trip to the darkest recesses of your soul, a downward spiral into a deep depression.

So, a lot of the potential for treatment lies in our own selves and how we think about things. Where possible and permitted, a person should identify and tackle the root cause of their ailment. Be proactive, try solving the problem or speaking with people who can help, like your family, friends, employer and doctor. If you can’t solve the problem nor make a massive change in your life then you have to find a way to deal with it. Talking with friends and family is a starting point, but from hereon, your aim is not to deal with the root cause of the problem as you cannot change the past, your aim is to change your future, to handle the symptoms or secondary problems and reduce their influence. Your aim is to create a more positive outlook on your life and a better future.

As Muslims, we find strength from our faith and our belief and trust in Allah. Sometimes we feel all alone and with no one to seek help from when in fact we have God there to seek help and support from. If we seek treatment, Allah will help us on our way to getting better. We need to form a better understanding of life. We have to understand that we will all have some adversity in our life but we need to be patient:

[2.155] And We will most certainly try you with somewhat of fear and hunger and loss of property and lives and fruits; and give good news to the patient.

[2.156] Who, when a misfortune befalls them, say: Surely we are Allah’s and to Him we shall surely return.

[2.157] Those are they on whom are blessings and mercy from their Lord, and those are the followers of the right course.

On the face of it, the reality of life is that we will all get diseases, suffer, grow old and die, but our attitude towards this reality makes all the difference. This is the human condition and there is nothing you can do about it apart from change your attitude towards it. In Islam, life isn’t viewed as the be all and end all of existence. Our life is a gift from Allah and He uses it to test us to see if we are patient and obedient before He takes us into the afterlife where we will discover our fate. We need to understand the value of our own soul and this is why we need to form a better relationship with God. When we feel lonely and unloved, we must always remember that God is with us and that He loves and cares about us and He is never far from us. We can talk to Him and seek help from Him and He can help us get better and He has the power to improve our situation. Allah asks us to call on Him for support:

[2.186] And when My servants ask you concerning Me, then surely I am very near; I answer the prayer of the suppliant when he calls on Me, so they should answer My call and believe in Me that they may walk in the right way.

Humans have an unmatched ability to make their own lives miserable and ruin the lives of others with them. Isn’t it strange how we commit sins against our very own souls and against the people we love and our neighbours and wonder why we feel bad and ashamed or ask why we get punished in this life? The first step to becoming a better person and a better believer who Allah is more likely to help, is to reduce your sinning, right your wrongs and seek repentance from those you wronged and from Allah. Never lose hope in the forgiveness of Allah and pray to Him. It is said that one of the worst sin a person can do, aside from the obvious ascribing partners to Allah (shirk), or disbelieving in Him, is despondence and despair, or losing all hope in God and in His mercy and forgiveness. If we are depressed we may feel hopeless and powerless, but if we lose our trust and faith in Allah then we have committed a great injustice against our very own souls.

The Prophet Muhammed (SAW) has related:

“No fatigue, nor disease, nor sorrow, nor sadness, nor hurt, nor distress befalls a Muslim, even if it were the prick he receives from a thorn, but that Allah expiates some of his sins for that” [Sahih Bukhari]

We might suffer in this life, but if we are patient and obedient to Allah then He will remove our sins and bless us manifold in the hereafter. If we go through a hard time, and we fight a good fight and we remain patient in adversity, we may come out better people, mentally and spiritually stronger at the end of it. Let us not forget, that there is something good in the bad things that happen to us and we are in far less dire a condition than other people in the world. Other people are dying of terrible diseases, people are watching their friends and family getting hacked to death and others are being tortured while we here are worrying about ourselves. And let us not forget that the most beloved people to Allah suffered some terrible fates � one has only to remember the fate of Imam Hussain ibn Ali (AS) and his family members, including his children, close friends and companions getting slaughtered one after the other, but he never lost trust in Allah and he prayed to Him throughout the massacre. And also of the Prophets of God, like Nuh (Noah), Ayub (Job) and Muhammed (PBUT). All of these holy and most beloved people to God were physically harmed by their enemies, belittled, called liars, became ill and suffered the loss of their own children.

Brothers and sisters, you are not alone and you have people who care about you. There is no shame is seeking help. You have Allah, your family and friends and if you need further help then please speak with your doctor. There are also books, help lines you can telephone (Muslim Youth Helpline 0808 808 2008) and websites you can visit to help you overcome depression inshallah.

I should state that I’m not a therapist of any sort, nor can I give any professional advice, and the aim of this article is to help guide you to seeking professional help if you require it. The statistics and non-religious advice mentioned in the article have been paraphrased from the books I read in researching the subject: Overcoming Depression by Dr Windy Dryden and Sarah Opie, and Overcoming Depression by Paul Gilbert.