Mental Illness Is Not A Personal Failure

April 29, 2018
As part of our Mind Your Mind Mental Health Campaign we will be submitting stories that you send in to us about your experiences with mental health. We hope that this will help to destigmatise mental health and increase conversation. If you would like to submit a story you can do so anonymously by following the link below:

For now, have a read of this week’s story:

If you were to ask me this time one year ago to write about my mental health, I would have denied that I had depression. Today, I write this having suffered depression for almost two years now, but feel brave enough to talk about it (anonymously, anyway). People with mental health issues often complain about the stigma that surrounds the illness. Truth be told, it is substantially worse amongst the Muslim community. You would think that some of their ways and traditions would have changed upon moving to the Western world, but the views on mental health illnesses are still very much the same.
“Stop crying, get over yourself. Where’s your Imaan? We’re Muslims – we don’t get depressed. Fear Allah – what are you going to say on the Day of Judgement for being so ungrateful?”
Ask anyone to describe me in one phrase and they will reply – “infectious positivity!”. Although this is true of the picture I’ve created myself on the surface, I’ve done it to avoid the questions. There is the automatic assumption that your Imaan is weak. That if you prayed more, read the Quran more, then you wouldn’t be ‘depressed’. This made me question myself. Am I not religious enough? Do I need to increase my faith? Is God angry with me? Am I being punished? It is true that Allah has created us in the perfect form, but like everything else that could go physically wrong in the human body – a mental illness is just as likely. When someone comes out of a surgery, they are showered with flowers & “Get Well Soon!” cards. But if they are admitted onto a psychiatric ward, they are called ‘crazy’, weak, and doomed to hell. Why is this? Although you can’t see the emotional pain and agony behind depression – I am here to tell you, it is real. It is trying to stay afloat, only with an anchor tied around your ankles that continuously pull you down. Your strengths become your weaknesses. You see, depression lies to you. It tells you that you’re worthless and that there is no future. That you’re not smart enough, not religious enough, or worse yet – a burden to your family and friends. I am not ungrateful. I am thankful for all the blessings Allah has bestowed upon me. But depression is more than gratitude. It is an ever-lingering constant sadness, even when everything in your life is going well. It is a real illness; a chemical imbalance in the brain. An illness that can’t be resolved by solely strengthening your Imaan. The solution isn’t clear cut & straightforward. It is a battle that tests you to the limit, and even the most pious will struggle. Just because you have a strong relationship with Allah doesn’t mean that you will be immune to life obstacles and heartache that comes along your way.   I don’t pity myself, and I don’t want you to pity me either. It’s difficult to explain my dark, twisty thoughts to people – so I keep it between myself and Allah. The pain and sadness I cannot put down in words, I pray for salvation from it. I express my guilt to Him at feeling this way. I seek refuge from the disappointment of people’s responses to my depression, because I know that He is there for me when others can’t be. A safe space, where I can be completely vulnerable and shatter down in tears at the end of the day. Because in His eyes, I pray that He still sees me worthy despite my insecurities. I was surprised to learn that there were many tales of sadness depicted in our Quran. This has been specifically sent down from Allah to provide us with solace when we are struggling. Maryam (as) gave birth all alone, lacking parental support and feeling judged by her entire community, wishing Allah had taken her life instead & spared her from despair. Prophet Yaqub (as) cried so much at the pain of separation from his son Yusuf (as), that he lost his eyesight. Even our beloved Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), who had the strongest relationship with Allah, there was a ‘Year of Sorrow’ in his Seerah. He grieved the loss of his loved ones, such as his wife Khadija, and uncle Abu Talib (as both). He also became depressed during the time he was a target of physical attacks from the people of Mecca, who refused to accept his message of Islam, and when he hadn’t heard from Allah for a while after the first revelation. Despite this, Allah provided a way out for all them, and there was Hikmah behind everything. He didn’t belittle their challenges, but encouraged them to have hope in His plans, and not their pain. But sometimes –the stories from the Quran, rushing to Salah and being a virtuous Muslim isn’t enough. For whatever reason that it is –there is no shame in seeking professional help. Whether it’s counselling, therapy, or – wait for it – being prescribed a course of antidepressants, why is it any different from taking antibiotics? We have a right and duty as Muslims, but also as human beings, to take care of our bodies and put our health (physical and mental) first. And if the treatment is available, we have been asked to make use of it.
“There is no disease that Allah has created, except that He has also created its treatment”.
For so long, I thought that asking for help makes you weak (and most of the time I still feel that way), but I now realise that pretending that you don’t need help is the real weakness. Having said that, I think that as Muslims we have the best of both worlds. Not only can we seek help externally, but we can also utilise our faith as a life vest to keep us from drowning. Hence why therapy/treatment is only one aspect of the solution. Maybe the reason why Allah allows us to feel the heaviness in our hearts is because He wants to remind us that He can also give rest. Maybe He is allowing to experience days where we feel empty to make us realise that He alone can make us feel whole. Maybe it is about Sabr (patience) –when you dream about roses, but walk on thorns.
Never a believer is stricken with a discomfort, illness, anxiety, grief, or mental worry, or even the pricking of a thorn; but Allah will expiate his sins account of his patience”.
I ask you to take notice of the person who isn’t as cheerful as they usually are. Behavioural changes aren’t drastic –they take place over time. Don’t let our “Yeah, I’m just tired” or fake smile distract you. Help someone, Brother or Sister, who is suffering, even if it’s for reasons that don’t make sense to you. Understand that the fog of depression causes us to make bad decisions and say things we wish we never had. Continue to be there for us, even if we’ve been emotionally unstable for weeks on end –this is the noblest thing that you can do, as “Allah will not forget the eye which was about to cry but you made it laugh”. Most importantly, if you feel like any of this has resonated with you –please take it as a cue to speak to someone. Don’t keep your feelings bottled up. The first step is always the hardest, but it is so worth it. It doesn’t take a day to transition into a mental illness, so don’t expect yourself to recover overnight. What matters is that you remain determined to keep ploughing on, and that “Verily, in the remembrance of Allah, do hearts find rest” (13:28)