What is Depression and How to Overcome it? The Islamic Solution
Many of us are affected at some point in our lives by depression. Depression is a mental state which affects a person’s thoughts, behaviour and motivation and is known to have many possible causes. According to recent estimates more than 264 million people of all ages across the world suffer from depression. On top of that, over 12% of Americans take some form of antidepressant. Aside from the potential side-effects of the many prescription medication solutions, depression can itself be a product of a number prescription medicines. So, the question is, “is there another way out?”
A person’s beliefs can have an impact on their mental health. How people see the world and make sense of what happens in it, can play a role in how likely they are to suffer from depression or how they handle depression when they have it. An important factor which can cause depressive states is a person’s stress levels. According to neurology professor Robert Sapolsky, people of religious faith are statistically less likely to experience stress. Belief in an ordered universe and ultimate purpose he notes, are all conducive factors in reducing levels of stress.
Another dimension of many religions is the emphasis placed on the state of gratitude. When the conscious mind is reminded of what it has, as opposed to what it could have a mental shift occurs. A state of gratitude enables a person to seeing the bigger picture in life, to take stock not just of their belongings, but their loved ones. This mental shift from what a person might desire or fear to a value-centred perspective on life on all the precious things they have in life reduces factors causing depression such as stress.For instance in their daily prayers Muslims thank God for his blessings. This gratitude is also expected to be directed at people also, with Islamic belief holding that gratitude to God requires expressing gratitude to his creation as well.
A well-known fact about depression is that people suffering with it are in need of social support mechanisms: whether it means take counselling sessions or family and friends providing a healthy outlet for that person. The need for support runs deep and shared belief, religious or otherwise provides a basis for social interaction and engagement. It goes without saying that socializing is the most obvious means to overcoming loneliness and isolation, factors long-recognised as central to depression. Faith-based communities with weekly services are ideal social support mechanism for those affected by this debilitating condition. In the case of Islam, Friday happens to be the day for communal prayer as well as visiting relatives. From the household to the local Mosque, we’re instructed to inquire about the well-being of our brothers and sister. A famous saying of Prophet Muhammad goes: “The believers in their mutual kindness, compassion and sympathy are just like one body. When one of the limbs suffers, the whole body responds to it with wakefulness and fever.”
Now having beliefs, a supportive community and a sense of gratitude can help with our mental health, but depression also has to do with our body and what we consume. Many people, when they feel depressed see little choice but to turn to drugs and alcohol. The unfortunate reality is that roughly a third of adults who have a substance abuse disorder also suffer from depression. Given religious injunctions and ethics against substance abuse and harming the body generally, it’s no wonder that religious belief can act as a means of prevention. By a person sticking to their beliefs about the wrongness of drug and alcohol abuse they are less likely to fall into the vicious spiral leading those with depression into harmful substance abuse and vice-verse.
A final point on belief as a way out of depression is the reality of divine mercy. As an analogy, take a child who is regularly punished by their parents becomes hyper-fearful of doing something to provoke their parents’ anger, versus a child who knows that there are rules their parents expect them to observe but that their parents love them and forgive them no matter what. The second child is has a life with life stress-inducing factors and certainly have a far more healthy mental state than the first child living in fear without hope of redemption or mercy. This is also the case for many of the world religions. Belief in an omnipotent God’s mercy is a huge factor in their approach to life as well as hope for the future. Constant fear, guilt and despair on the other hand are debilitating factors closely connected to depression.
A recognition that humans are fallible and have flaws is key to understanding divine mercy. Despite our shortcomings we live with peace of mind that God is forgiving and merciful. A verse in Islam’s scripture the Quran reads: “O My servants who have transgressed against themselves [by sinning], do not despair of the mercy of God. Indeed, God forgives all sins.” (39:53)