Part 1 - What is Mental Health & What is our Reaction to it?
Humans have a mind, body and soul and therefore we have mental health, physical health and spiritual health. Each has different forms of staying healthy and each can lose the quality of health. Just as a person can lose the quality of their physical health i.e. through an illness or injury, and would seek treatment for it, similarly, a person can lose the quality of their mental health. The heart can hurt after traumatic experiences and a person can get emotionally worn out and just as people need physical therapy for an injury, they need emotional therapy for mental health.
Mental Health & Fear of Stigma
Unfortunately, our community is naïve about mental health. When a physically sick person seeks medical help, we think nothing of it yet if someone we know tells us they are depressed or are having therapy, our reactions negate their feelings. Our reaction would be to make a judgement and tell them to pray more, make Sabr, recite the Qur’an or make Dhikr or say things like, “If you pray then you shouldn’t feel anxious or depressed”. Some even mock or make fun.
This fear of being judged and stigmatised creates fear in people and some remain quiet about their mental health and carry on for years coping by themselves which worsens the state of their mental health and it becomes a never-ending cycle.
We should realise that different people have different levels of stress and also different levels of coping with it. Some stress out earlier than others and some have stress in one aspect of their life while others have stress in other aspects. These differences in people can be due to being affected by their environment or having had trauma in childhood. Some may genetically be happy go lucky. Not having had emotional trauma or bad life experiences, they deal with problems better. Others need to work hard to be able to cope with problems.
There is therefore, a crucial need to change our mindsets and destigmatise mental health therapy.
Avoiding talking about mental health problems will not take the problem away and until people can talk about it without fear, they will suffer in silence and suffering in silence is the worst type of suffering.
What advises do we find in the Qur’an?
The story of Maryam AS
فَأَجَاءَهَا الْمَخَاضُ إِلَىٰ جِذْعِ النَّخْلَةِ قَالَتْ يَا لَيْتَنِي مِتُّ قَبْلَ هَٰذَا وَكُنْتُ نَسْيًا مَنْسِيًّا
Then the labour pains brought her to the trunk of a palm-tree. She said “O that I would have died before this, and would have been something gone, forgotten.” [Surah Maryam verse 23]
Maryam AS was about to deliver baby ‘Isaa AS. She was naturally anxious, worried and fearful about facing the people so much, so that she said she wished she had died before that moment, having gone and forgotten. Alone and without any support, as she faced labour pains, in a moment of extreme anguish she wished she was dead.
What was the response to her emotions? Verses 24 – 26:
فَنَادَاهَا مِنْ تَحْتِهَا أَلَّا تَحْزَنِي قَدْ جَعَلَ رَبُّكِ تَحْتَكِ سَرِيًّا
Then he called her from beneath her: “Do not grieve; your Lord has placed a stream beneath you.
Jibra’eel AS called to her from below the hill upon which she sat telling her not to grieve as Allah ta’ala has created a stream beneath her. [Verse 24]
Abdullah bin Abbas RA says that the stream began to flow when Jibra’eel AS struck his foot on the ground. Another narration says that there was a dry stream nearby which Allah ta’ala caused to flow and a wilted date palm which Allah ta’ala caused to bear dates.
وَهُزِّي إِلَيْكِ بِجِذْعِ النَّخْلَةِ تُسَاقِطْ عَلَيْكِ رُطَبًا جَنِيًّا
Shake the trunk of the palm-tree towards yourself and, it will drop upon you ripe fresh dates.
Jibra’eel AS told her to shake the trunk of the date palm which caused fresh ripened dates to fall on her. This was also miraculous because normally even a strong man will be unable to shake a date palm, let alone a weakened woman in labour. She was able to shake the tree so that dates fell.
فَكُلِي وَاشْرَبِي وَقَرِّي عَيْنًا ۖ فَإِمَّا تَرَيِنَّ مِنَ الْبَشَرِ أَحَدًا فَقُولِي إِنِّي نَذَرْتُ لِلرَّحْمَٰنِ صَوْمًا فَلَنْ أُكَلِّمَ الْيَوْمَ إِنْسِيًّا
So eat, drink and cool your eyes. Then if you see any human being, say (to him), ‘I have vowed a fast (of silence) for the All-Merciful (Allah,) and therefore, I shall never speak to any human today.’”
She was then told to eat and drink which are simple pleasures of life and to cool her eyes. The new born child will be the coolness of her eyes i.e. a source of comfort to her.
Response to Maryam AS’s feelings of Anguish & Grief
Her feelings were not negated or belittled. She was not told, “Oh Maryam! You are a Siddeeqah. How can you feel this way?” She was not told to continue her ‘Ibaadah or to have Tawakkul.
Instead she was told not to be sad and many times that is all a person feeling down or depressed needs to hear.
Thereafter she was told to be proactive. Allah ta’ala could have made the dates fall but she was told to shake the tree so that ripe dates would fall. Physical activity can often eradicate feelings of anger, depression, etc.
This teaches us that the way to help someone who is overcome with grief, sadness, fear, etc. is to say comforting words, show ways to be proactive and provide them with some resources.
Consolation for the Prophet sallallaahu ‘alayhi wasallam
Surah Kahf: verse 6
فَلَعَلَّكَ بَاخِعٌ نَفْسَكَ عَلَىٰ آثَارِهِمْ إِنْ لَمْ يُؤْمِنُوا بِهَٰذَا الْحَدِيثِ أَسَفًا
So, (O Prophet) perhaps you are going to kill yourself after them, out of grief, if they do not believe in this discourse.
Despite the various miracles and replies to their innumerable questions, the Jews, Christians and the Mushrikeen adamantly refused to accept. Their disbelief greatly grieved the Prophet sallallaahu ‘alayhi wasallam. Allah ta’ala knew that even after listening to the account of the people of Kahf, they would still not believe. Therefore, before revealing the story of the people of Kahf, Allah ta’ala first consoles, pre-empts and prepares the Prophet sallallaahu ‘alayhi wasallam by saying that it should not be that you destroy yourself after them in grief because they do not believe.
In Surah Dhuhaa, Allah ta’ala first reassures and then consoles him,
مَا وَدَّعَكَ رَبُّكَ وَمَا قَلَىٰ
Your Rabb has neither forsaken you, O Muhammad, nor is He displeased [93:3]
وَلَلْآخِرَةُ خَيْرٌ لَكَ مِنَ الْأُولَىٰ
Certainly the later period shall be better for you than the earlier. [93:4]
These episodes show the emotional states of Maryam AS and the Prophet sallallaahu ‘alayhi wasallam. They were human and experiencing human emotions and the response was comforting and consoling to them in their grief.
Save a life
It is very stressful to deal with someone with mental health issues however if someone’s mental health state can be changed from a low dark spot to hope and comfort then that person will forever appreciate it from their hearts because coming out of mental health problems is like starting a new life and Allah ta’ala says in the Qur’an,
وَمَنْ أَحْيَاهَا فَكَأَنَّمَا أَحْيَا النَّاسَ جَمِيعًا
and whoever saves a life, it will be as if they saved all of humanity [Surah Maa’idah: 32]
We do not know what trauma people with mental health problems suffered in childhood and what they are suffering in silence so we should try to be patient and do what we can to relieve them of their suffering.
Trials will come
Allah ta’ala says in the Qur’an,
أَحَسِبَ النَّاسُ أَنْ يُتْرَكُوا أَنْ يَقُولُوا آمَنَّا وَهُمْ لَا يُفْتَنُونَ
Do the people think that they will be left alone on saying "We believe," and that they will not be tested? [Surah Ankaboot: 2]
· Seek help through Sabr & Salaah in times of difficulties,
وَاسْتَعِينُوا بِالصَّبْرِ وَالصَّلَاةِ ۚ وَإِنَّهَا لَكَبِيرَةٌ إِلَّا عَلَى الْخَاشِعِينَ
Seek help through patience and prayer. It is indeed exacting, but not for those who are humble in their hearts, [Surha Baqarah: 45]
· When some difficulty occurs, reflect on why/how this happened since calamities can befall us due to our sins;
وَمَا أَصَابَكُم مِّن مُّصِيبَةٍ فَبِمَا كَسَبَتْ أَيْدِيكُمْ وَيَعْفُو عَن كَثِيرٍ
And whatever befalls you of (the) misfortune, (is because) of what have earned your hands. But He pardons [from] much. [Surah Ash-Shura: 30]
Ask yourself, how can I change?
“If anyone constantly seeks pardon (from Allah), Allah will appoint for him a way out of every distress and a relief from every anxiety, and will provide sustenance for him from where he expects not.” [Abu Dawood]
· What should I read? There are various Du’a, Wazeefah, Dhikr, etc. for different occasions and this is all ‘Ibaadah.
In this way a person does Muhaasabah, taking account, and this is part of our Deen. With this method the problem itself may not be removed, but the anxiety/stress/fear will be removed.
الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَتَطْمَئِنُّ قُلُوبُهُمْ بِذِكْرِ اللَّهِ ۗ أَلَا بِذِكْرِ اللَّهِ تَطْمَئِنُّ الْقُلُوبُ
Those who believe and whose hearts find comfort in the remembrance of Allah. Surely in the remembrance of Allah do hearts find comfort [Ar-Ra’ad: 28]