As Muslims, we rely on God to heal us from our sins, our worldly obsessions, our sicknesses, etc. We believe that God has power over all things and that “verily with hardship comes relief.” As someone with a neuroscience degree, I believe that the brain is the most complex part of the body, and that when your brain is “fighting with itself,” sometimes no amount of reassurance that everything is going to be okay in the end helps. In fact, sometimes it makes it worse and can make you feel worse about yourself.
In the end, God will be there to listen to you no matter what, but every once in a while we might need someone else to physically talk to and express our emotions verbally to. Regardless of what happens in my life, I will always try to be grateful, because I know that even though I will make my own plans, God will also make plans for me, and His are always going to be greater, even if I don’t always initially understand them. Admittedly, this belief does give me a great deal of comfort in times of trouble, and I do turn to prayer most of the time, but that doesn’t change the fact that my mental health hasn’t exactly been “on par” for a while now, especially lately. Depression is real, and the fact that so many people near and dear to me, and in the Muslim community in general, dispute this assertion will never cease to infuriate me.
Regardless of what happens in my life, I will always try to be grateful, because I know that even though I will make my own plans, God will also make plans for me, and His are always going to be greater, even if I don’t always initially understand them.
While I’m a firm believer in the power of prayer and making dua’a, I’m also a firm believer in seeking medical treatment or therapy for yourself when you feel you need it.
Prayer is one of the first things that comes to my mind when I start having dark thoughts, but what about when prayer isn’t enough? What happens when you feel too weak to even try to pray in the first place, or when you pray all five daily prayers and more and still feel the weight of the depression pulling you down? It can sometimes be very hard for the youth of our generation and in the Muslim community to believe in the power of prayer when we’re constantly told that it will eventually solve our problems, but we don’t see results, and still don’t feel like ourselves.
Our families don’t always have an easy time acknowledging mental illness in the “right” ways. Some families may fear the word about their child having a mental illness, like depression, getting out to the rest of the community, causing shame. In my household, it’s silently understood that it’s almost taboo to speak about it, so we don’t. There is nothing to be ashamed about if you suffer from mental illness, and seeking help should always be okay and encouraged by those closest to you if it comes to that point. There is also nothing wrong with choosing a traditional path to life and religion, as long as you also recognize where religion and prayer may not be enough on its own.
Combining prayer with “concrete” treatment is the best way to deal with a mental illness diagnosis, because trying to ignore, dissipate, or chastise someone with these issues can lead to much more severe consequences; not to mention it will most likely be much more detrimental to the person’s faith in the long run compared to if that person had been allowed access to therapy of some sort.
In cultures where patriarchal values values are heavily expressed, men are often looked down upon when they show any type of emotions, which is yet another facet of the discrepancy between prayer and mental illness. They’re told to “man up” and not cry about it, as if shedding tears makes you less empowered. Imagine being treated as if you’re not allowed to cry, and as if your problems aren’t real because they aren’t “physical” problems. Logically, this will eventually manifest into anger and aggressiveness, as a result of not having a proper outlet or support system. Parents have to do better. As a society, we have to do better. We have to teach our sons and daughters that the pain they feel is valid and that we will stand behind them no matter what instead of shaming them. We have to hear them out when something is wrong, instead of shutting them up. Even the strongest people break sometimes; the ones who assure themselves they can “tough it out” and have nothing to complain about are the ones who sometimes unfortunately don’t make it.
We have to teach our sons and daughters that the pain they feel is valid and that we will stand behind them no matter what instead of shaming them. We have to hear them out when something is wrong, instead of shutting them up.
I share these thoughts just to say that yes, I do believe prayer is the most powerful form of healing. I’m a firm believer that it works wonders and always will be – I have seen it do great things in my own life. But the reality is, when you’re praying, you’re still technically alone — just you and your thoughts being relayed to God. If prayer is enough for you, I commend you greatly for being that strong, and being able to put all your faith in God without doubting anything, but in some cases I do believe that prayer needs to be the afterthought.
Again, seeking help should not be looked down upon. The stigma surrounding mental illness needs to be diminished so that people can get the help they need and deserve. Suicide is strongly against Islamic belief and no one should ever have to get to that point, but unfortunately, some young Muslims – and young people in general – commit suicide because they feel as though they aren’t being listened to, and feel as though they have no other options. You don’t need to be formally diagnosed with depression, because not having a diagnosis doesn’t make it any less real.
Awareness is finally being spread around the world and stigmas are being broken, breaking the facade that a lot of people have put themselves behind because they didn’t know what else to do.
We have to keep this going; we have to share our stories (those who are comfortable), and assure each other that we are not alone. We have to encourage each other, and pray for each other, but we have to support others when they go to seek further help as well. I vow to do this for my friends from here on out – even the most indestructible ones – and I hope you will vow to do this as well.