Embracing Mental Health
The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the view of The Link Canada publication.
A while back I had a cold and was told by a friend that the reason for my sickness was because someone had put the evil eye on me. I couldn’t help but feel frustrated at this statement. The cause of my cold was very clear – a virus had entered my body and caused me to become ill. Later when I recovered, I reflected on this incident. If this was how I felt in regards to a small cold, then how must it feel when a mother is told that the only reason for her depression is because of the evil eye? How must a father with generalized anxiety disorder feel when he is told that he is afflicted by a jinn? What about a young girl with an eating disorder who is told that she only has a mental illness because she isn’t ‘religious enough’ or because she is ‘too negative about life?’
While evil eye, the affliction of jinn and lack of religiosity are serious issues, this does not mean that they are the cause of every problem we face. The reality is that our world is composed of both tangible matters, such as bacteria and chemical reactions, as well as intangible matters, such as evil eye and jinn. As a result, it is only logical that the problems we face are caused by either of these two domains.
Mental illnesses are an example of problems caused by tangible matters and are not due to weakness of character or supernatural events. Rather, they are caused by a combination of genetic, biological, environmental and psychological factors. For example, depression is caused by a complex interaction of faulty mood regulation by the brain, genetic vulnerability, stressful life events, medications and medical problems.  Studies show for example that a person with depression has heightened activity in the amygdala, the area of the brain responsible for emotions such as fear and sorrow. In addition, individuals with depression show a decreased growth of nerve cells in the hippocampus, the region of the brain where long-term memories are stored. . Similarly, individuals with generalized anxiety disorder experience hyperactivity in the amygdala, causing fear and triggering panic attacks.  Illnesses, whether they are physical or mental, are anything but simple. As a result simplistic explanations on why they occur do not suffice.
Mental illnesses will indirectly affect every Canadian through a family member, friend or colleague.  Despite its prevalence however, this is an issue that sparks controversy and debate among the Muslim community. Its time that we take mental illnesses as serious health problems and not personal flaws. We can start by being careful with our words. Throwing around statements like ‘I feel depressed’ when feeling sad or saying ‘I’m being so bipolar’ when experiencing mood swings are not only inaccurate but also harmful. Statements like these make light of the issue of mental health and belittle those who experience these problems.
Second, we should direct individuals with mental illnesses to a doctor or psychologist. While coming closer to Allah SWT is always beneficial and important, engaging in psychotherapy or starting medication are also important steps. Finally we should educate ourselves on the different types of mental illnesses and the severity with which they occur. Learning about these problems, accepting them and seeking help are signs of strength.
As Muslims we should be proactive when faced with challenges – trusting Allah and simultaneously seeking help are the true qualities of a believer.