views on mental illness in muslim society

Caught a cold or came down with a fever, our first instinct is to head down to the doctor’s and get medicated. But what if the illness isn’t something that can be seen as a running nose? What if it’s the chemicals in our brains cause it? Isn’t it still a legitimate illness that needs to be treated, be it with prescriptions or therapy?


A few years ago, to bring up the topic about mental illness in any situation seems to be taboo. No one talks about the depressed kid in class — in fact everyone stays away from him, as if his emotional state is a contagious disease. We live our lives oblivious to the existence of such disorders and shrugging them off as attitude problems or adolescence. Only with recent cases of suicide attempts and drastic panic attacks around the world did the media shine some light on the matter.


In the Muslim community, however, it may still an unacceptable issue to be discussed. Many still claim mental disorders such as depression and anxiety do not exist in Islam.


Suffering in silence


People suffer in silence and live in denial about their emotional and mental struggles. Some people are not even aware they’re suffering. Because society and culture play huge roles in our upbringing, speaking out about such complication is sometimes considered inappropriate. 


We were brought up to follow the rules and be like everyone else. But for some of us, it’s just harder than others to fit in. How we think is slightly different and that is in our nature. Young and naive as we were, we force ourselves to succumb to the social standards, beating ourselves up for being different. That inevitably adds more stress and pressure to an already growing mental struggle.


Not wanting to be looked at differently is just one of the reasons people keep their mental struggles quiet and secretive.


The community’s response of “Just pray”


Another reason is that the Muslim community often see mental illness as a mark of weakness — in their faith in God and religion. We are always told to “just pray”, being told that it is because of our lack of worship acts and loyalty to our faith that we are suffering from these mental illnesses. 


While it may be a sign of care and concern when someone tells you to “say a prayer” or “pray more”, it often doesn’t come across that way. It gives the impression that we’re seen as believers with lack of devotion to our religion. Such assumptions might even derail some of us away from the religion because of the judgement and lack of understanding from the community. 

My personal experience


Being diagnosed with anxiety and mild depression is not something to be proud of, but it’s not something I am ashamed of either. Initially, I rejected the idea of medication and therapy, because I assumed it was just a phase and I would get out of it eventually. Fast forward a couple of years, the frequency of my panic attacks due to anxiety sky-rocketed and I find myself constantly in a state of depression with no way out.


When my mental struggles started affecting my daily activities, relationships and physical health, I made the tough decision to reach out for help through the means of medication and therapy. Reaching out for help isn’t a sign of weakness or dysfunction. In fact, it’s the opposite: it’s a show of strength and resilience. 


I’ve been taught that if I want something, I have to do two things: make dua and put in the effort. It is important to be accepting of the situation and be surrounded by supportive people. Taking the first step is crucial, but the journey to improvement and achieving a healthy mental state is a long and tough one. Having a caring community and encouraging loved ones with you will benefit substantially in recovering and, InsyaAllah, bring you closer to your faith and Him.