Shattering The Stigma of Mental Illness

Changing Perspectives on Mental Health

Devastated and broken while suffering for years in silence, a 20 year old girl spent her short life misunderstood and ridiculed not only by her peers, but sadly by her own family members obliterating her self-esteem. She pleaded with her parents for professional help, but her grievances were never taken seriously. Overwhelmed by feelings of inadequacy and alienation, the darkness of depression took over. Her unbearable loneliness left her feeling as if she didn’t have a choice but to try to end her pain the only way she knew how, by taking her own life. Alhamdulilllah, it was a failed attempt, which jolted her parents to wake up from their delusion and finally act.

When the family came in to see me they had no idea that the solution could be so simple. Alhamdulillah we were able to turn her life around in just a few short sessions. She learned to understand her depression, ways to cope with stress and restore the relationship with her parents.

“There is no disease that Allah has created, except that He also has created its treatment.” (Al-Bukhari)

Many people are suffering in silence with depression like the girl in the story, but they are not seeking help because of the fear and the stigma associated with mental health. They are either apprehensive about being labeled or they are ashamed to admit that they have a problem. It is about time we start prioritizing mental health and giving the same kind of medical attention as we do with physical illness. If your child broke his leg would you ignore it and hope it will just get better on its own or will you rush him to the emergency room to align the bone and put a cast on it? What would happen if the broken bone was ignored and not treated? It would obviously become a bigger problem leading to a lifetime of difficulty when it could have been so easily treated. Parents who wouldn’t treat a broken bone would be seen as negligent and unfit parents. They would even be categorized as abusive. Then why do we ignore the emotional wounds of our loved ones? Why do we assume that they will get over it? Bones will not heal sporadically without an orthopedist; a cavity will not go away on its own without a dentist and mental illnesses will not be healed without seeking psychological help from a professional. There are some people who may have limited finances, but in the same way we come up with the funds needed for surgery we need to come up with the funds to treat our family with mental health issues.

  • Fear of the unknown
  • Stigma associated with mental health
  • Apprehensive about being labeled
  • Ashamed to admit their problem
  • Financial limitation

How Mental Health is Generally Dealt With

Mental health is often completely disregarded and trivialized in our communities. Since the symptoms of the disorders may not be as visible as physical diseases, it can be easily dismissed as being made up or unimportant. Due to a lack of education in mental health or experience, many parents prefer to sweep the problems under the rug denying that it is of any significance. Unfortunately, sticking your head in the sand will not make the problems disappear. Pretending that mental illness does not exist only exacerbates the problem. Untreated mental health issues can proliferate and completely take over the life of a loved one. Sometimes this can manifest in extreme depression, anxiety or hallucinations, which can be scary for family members, who then may resort to yelling, threatening and shaming their loved ones into silence. At their most vulnerable and frightening time when they are desperately in need of support, understanding and professional help, they are often ostracized and humiliated. 

Summary: How Mental Illness is Generally Dealt With:

  • Disregarded
  • Trivialized
  • Dismissed
  • Pretend it doesn’t exist
  • Yelling
  • Threatening
  • Shaming
  • Ostracizing
  • Humiliating

Benefits of Early Detection

And We sent not before you, [O Muhammad], except men to whom We revealed [the message], so ask the people of knowledge if you do not know. (Surat Al-Anbiya, 21:7)

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In seeking medical attention for our family, we spare no expense to get the most renowned cardiologist or neurologist in the country for advice and treatment. When it comes to psychological advice, though, anyone will do. There is a total disregard for education, experience and competence. It is important to find a professionally trained counselor who is qualified to provide the specific type of treatment that is needed.

I can’t tell you the number of times I have seen extremes in people seeking treatment. There have been those who come for therapy in their fifties confiding in someone for the very first time in their life that they were abused at the age of four. These individuals delay their healing process and live with pessimism, rancor and resentment throughout their lives. Then there are those who quickly recognize there is a problem and they seek help to prevent it from escalating. These individuals learn to navigate through tumultuous waters of life with grace and confidence, knowing that they took the necessary steps to seek help. Amongst the elite are those exceptional individuals who come before they even detect a problem for premarital therapy, pre-parenting tips and preparation for loss of a loved one. They equip themselves like professional campers in avoiding dangers of conflict in marriage, putting out the fire of anger in parenting, preparing for the inevitable and making the most of their adventurous journey of life.

As with all illnesses, early detection and treatment of many mental disorders could be managed and cured. It could be the difference between having a fulfilling, peaceful life or living miserably and destroying the happiness of others. When someone learns to overcome their issues, they are more capable of having meaningful relationships. Early detection could mean more empathy for the one suffering and it could increase their self-esteem by having an in-depth understanding of their disorder. Sometimes it could be life and death.

Let’s not wait until it’s too late to seek treatment for ourselves and our loved ones.

Summary: Benefits of Early Detection:

  • Manage the illness
  • Cure the illness
  • Peaceful life
  • Better relationships
  • More empathy
  • Increase self-esteem
  • Better understanding of the illness
  • Prevent suicide

What Needs To Be Done?

EDUCATION. EDUCATION. EDUCATION.

Did I mention education? The more we inform our communities about the importance of treating mental health, the more we can prevent tragedies and help people live a fulfilling life regardless of their mental and emotional challenges. There is a need for Friday sermons across the country discussing our responsibility as practicing Muslims to treat ourselves and our families for mental illness. In order to create a safe environment to discuss mental illness, we have to be less judgmental and more supportive of one other as a community. We need to talk more openly about it without feeling ashamed. Instead of humiliating and ostracizing those with mental illness, we need to have prophetic patience, a heart full of compassion and the willingness to provide reliable treatment. If we adopt all these new strategies, then maybe we can change the current statistics. Sadly, 56% of adults in the 4.5 million people who suffer from mental disorders do not get treated. Let’s educate ourselves and our communities to shatter the stigma of mental health once and for all.

Review: What Needs To Be Done?

  • Education
  • Khutbas about mental illness
  • Less judgmental
  • More supportive
  • Talk openly
  • Prophetic patience
  • Compassion

http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/issues/state-mental-health-america

http://www.newsweek.com/nearly-1-5-americans-suffer-mental-illness-each-year-230608

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8 responses to “Shattering The Stigma of Mental Illness”

  1. Zahra Fazal says:

    Assalamu alaykum sister Haleh

    I was just wondering if thinking too much is a mental disorder? I am almost always thinking or reflecting about something that happened or I want it to happen , no sadness, nothing of that sort alhamdulillah but just can’t stop thinking. Is there any solution to this?

    • Haleh Banani says:

      Wa alaikomos salam,
      Many people are consumed with over thinking. As long as you are not disturbed by your thoughts and they are not making you anxious or depressed you should be fine insha’Allah. If the thoughts are interfering with your life where you are unable to sleep or work, it could be classified as obsessive thoughts. You can be trained to control your thoughts in order to empower yourself with cognitive behavior therapy.

  2. Mirela says:

    It is definitely true that mental illness should not be a “lonely path” to take… And Muslims somehow think that they are immune to this disease …. As a caregiver to my mother, who has a from of mood disorder, now popular as bipolar disorder, I can tell that is a true jihad. It is a long story, involves PTSD from Bosnia war time, but all I can say that my mom condition was highly induced by pharmaceuticals. From Haldol ( this drug should be banned), Paxil, Prozac etc She suffered greatly until I decided to take her to America to live with us. Mental illness has many choices for treatment and counceling definitely helps, aknowledging your own problem, taking herbal treatments ( in my experience in a long run much better option than modern medicines), and overall positive attitude, lots of dua of course and a will to get better, is a key to “get out of tunnel” insha’Allah

    • Haleh Banani says:

      I appreciate you sharing your personal struggle of taking care of your mother with bipolar. It can be very demanding and emotionally draining. May Allah reward you for your patience and care for your mother. I’m sure it will weigh heavily on your scale of good deeds. I highly recommend a gluten free diet with little to no sugar to help with the symptoms of bipolar. Thank you for your feedback!

  3. Mustafa Mahmud says:

    Two questions

    Did depression occur among the Sahaba?

    If so, did they consider it a mental illness?

  4. Muslim101 says:

    Thank you very much Haleh. We definitely need more awareness about it in our societies. I have few questions I hope you get some time to answer:
    1. What is the limit where one can differentiate between normal struggle and an illness; can it include study stress as well? Like if someone is not able to take exams on time and feels stressed out to be extent that he cannot focus on study and keep thinking about past and does not finish degree on time.

    2. Can such disease also affect relations? Can there be an OCD where one person keeps his own love and affection for his spouse? If there is something like this, how can one differentiate between normal marriage problem and such OCD.

    3. Are there different types Psychiatrists dealing with specific problems? And considering the state of many muslim societies, how can one know which Psychiatrist is best for him. Or are there some specific online Psychiatrist available which can help deal with the situation. And can something like OCD can be treated through online sessions?

    Jazakallaho Khair

  5. Muslimah says:

    One question I have is how do we know what the difference is between bad thoughts which cause you anxiety and get you down being from was was of the shaytan or yourself. If you have seeked ruqyah and are practising alhamdulilah do you assume it is yourself and go about conventional psychological therapies.

  6. Abu Aaliyah says:

    I remember a brother who attended a local masjid once. He suffered from a severe mental illness. On this particular afternoon, he couldn’t help talking to himself loudly in the masjid. Unfortunately, he was judged and ostracized for this. In particular I remember one brother telling him, “Hey, did you take your meds or what?”, while snickering.

    I mention the above story because as a Muslim Social Worker working in the field of mental health, I am a strong advocate for raising mental health awareness, especially within our community. I find that mental health stigma is much greater in the Muslim community.

    Facts are that we DO have mental illnesses in the Muslim community. We DO have suicides in the Muslim community. We DO have anxiety, depression and other mental diseases that are NOT jinn possession, in the Muslim community.

    We should never brush these issues under the rug. And we should lead the fight against the stigma.

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