Debunking Myths of Mental Illnesses from an Islamic Perspective

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An eating disorder affects the whole family, not just the sufferer. If I could control it, I would stop this right now and decide to get better to put my family at rest but it is not simple as that. To my family, I am the one who is “crazy” because I have mental health issues. I know they care and they do not understand the reasons behind why things are so hard for me. If they did, they would not think like they do. Support is what I need. They do not like to admit that I am suffering. It is very much like I am a different person to them, whom they wish was not abnormal. I seem to have become such a burden to my family and that makes me feel incredibly guilty.

This stigma has left me feeling rather lost and alone and like I have no one to turn to. A family is an important part in recovery and when you feel like you cannot talk to the people who you live with, your world seems even darker than it already is.” – Anonymous.

This is just one example, from innumerable experiences of people with some sort of mental illness. It explains the frustration and the dilemma of the person with a mental problem, on one side, there is a constant battle with the mental illness, and on the other is incredible loneliness because even with best intentions, many families either fail to or refuse to understand the depth of the situation. Or even, the situation from the perspective of the person who is suffering.

The walls that some Muslim parents and/or the elder generation have put around themselves about mental illness and health really need to be broken down because the youth needs help. They truly need to feel as if it’s not taboo, and can be spoken about comfortably with their own mother and father. But here, the Muslim community is wrapped in their myths and misconceptions, unwilling to come out.

The wrong ideology about mental health and illnesses extends not only to the general world but also to the Muslim community. At this time and age when the Muslim youth is already suffering through several problems such as identity crisis, media marginalization, Islamophobia, etc. it should not really come as a surprise that they have mental health issues. But the big, tall and sturdy walls that Muslim families and communities have created around the issue is making it even worse. Many might think that ignoring the problem will make it go away. However, this is merely making the Muslim youth go away from Islam.

I personally went and spoke to Muslims about what they think about their children or any other person going through depression, eating disorders, anxiety disorder etc. And I narrowed them all down to 3 myths. I’m sincerely praying this article will help them understand the reality.

  • “She’s probably under heavy jinn influence.”

Yes, this is what some Muslims actually say about anxiety disorders and panic attacks. What is being left out is the difference in symptoms in both cases. The main difference between jinn possession and anxiety/panic attacks is – the Quran. When under jinn possession, a person’s aggression or symptoms come to rise only with the presence of the Quran in any form. But a person with panic/anxiety attacks, their attacks are an abrupt rise of intense fear, and comes to a peak within minutes, causing sweating, trembling, chest pain, nausea, feeling of choking, shortness of breath etc (anxiety and depression association of America). All of this isn’t a reaction to the presence of the Quran in any way, rather in anxiety or panic attacks come at any time, there is no specific cause. There is a mass difference between the two.

  • “It’s because Allah isn’t pleased with you. You’re not religious enough.”

This is the most common misconception of mental illness in the Muslim society and is also one of the top reasons why a young person will not want to be open about their mental illness, as this targets their iman directly. Depression is usually associated with not being religious. That this person is a sinner, and this is Allah’s punishment. We need to know that our beloved prophet Muhammad (SAW) was depressed during a time in his lifetime. There was a period in his life where He (SAW) didn’t receive revelation from Allah SWT for a long time, which made Muhammad (SAW) wonder if Allah SWT isn’t pleased with Him (SAW), or is He (SAW) doing something incorrect. This was when Allah SWT revealed down the verses of Surah Ad-Duha, to clear any negative thoughts that Muhammad (SAW) had and to cure His (SAW)’s sadness.

Surah Duha, is also one of the cures for depression, one must read it frequently with sincere intentions to try and cure themselves.

Now, is there any way that one can say that our beloved prophet Muhammad wasn’t religious enough?

  • “You’re not mature to understand the world. You want everything now, that’s why you’re so miserable.”

What I understood from this misconception was that people who say this think that, only young people suffer from mental illnesses. They say that young people want plenty with their life, and when they do not get what they want in life, they get into extreme sadness, as they aren’t “mature enough” to understand the real goals in life; only think in short-term happiness. This misconception also envelopes slightly over the 2nd misconception. Depression or any other mental illness isn’t a result of simply ‘not having things go our way’.

Although the exact causes of most mental illnesses are unknown, it has become clear through years of research that many of these conditions are caused by a combination of genetic, biological, psychological and environmental factors – not personal weakness or a character defect – and recovery from mental illness is not simply a matter of will and self-discipline (WebMD).

This is the truth about any Mental Illness, and an answer to any misconception. The Internet is aware of the reality and intensity of mental health, yet, why are several people still aloof from all the facts?

Once a lady came to Muhammad SAW and complained that she has a mental illness that makes her act very differently. Our prophet Muhammad SAW replied saying she has two options – first, I will pray to Allah to send down a cure or keep patience with your illness and paradise is for you.

The beautiful fact is, Muhammad SAW didn’t say “ you’re under jinn possession.” or “You need to pray more.” He SAW acknowledged the truth about mental illness, so why are we stopping ourselves from understanding?

One doesn’t simply wake up one day, and choose to have a mental illness, it’s not a choice. Allah SWT doesn’t send down a disease, except that he sent down the cure with it (Al-Bukhari). For this article, I’ve spoken not only to people who carry such misconceptions but also to those who have experienced such an event in their life, where their mental illness started and ended but it was all under the covers, as their family truly didn’t consider mental illness to be real. From the experience of such people, they’ve told me that – time really heals.

If you feel you need to help, please speak out and speak up. Talk to someone, go for private counselling, do not stay silent about this. ACC is here to help you, our counselors are here to help you. Always remember that Allah is completely aware of what you’re going through, he is watching.


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