Mental health isn’t taken seriously enough in the Muslim community

Mental health is becoming an issue increasingly acknowledged within society. There is an understanding that it’s an illness and not a weakness, the understanding that it can happen to anyone, rich or poor.

The footballer Stan Collymore famously admitted to suffering with depression which led to shocking scepticism and outrage. People could not fathom that someone could have material luxuries but still be depressed. For many people, the state of mind was linked to the state of income. When Robin Williams committed suicide, it sent jarring waves rippling through everyone. A comedian had killed himself. Again, the misconceptions of mental illness laid bare, particularly of depression: you can laugh, be happy and then still be depressed.

The lack of understanding on mental illness creates problems for those suffering as society cannot offer cohesive solutions on tackling it. Many think that depression means sadness. This is not true. Sadness is fleeting and fades. Depression is far deeper than that and encompasses a wider range of feelings, from anxiety to tension and apathy to life.

Others treat mental illnesses like depression and phobias as signs of mental weakness rather than an illness. This in itself is a massive problem as it means society lacks the empathy, and essentially, health programmes to help those suffering with the illnesses. There is a huge lack of government support within the UK for those suffering from poor mental health. People believe that it’s in someone’s head and can easily be tackled or that simply taking medicine solves it. This is not the case. From a personal account, a friend of mine suffered from depression and found that taking antidepressants did not help her at all.

A rising problem

It’s particularly a problem within the British Muslim community because it simply isn’t talked about enough, or at all. There is a tendency for many to dismiss illnesses such as depression as weak faith in Allah (swt) or things that can be healed by simply forging a stronger spiritual connection to faith. If only life were that easy. Such arguments are extremely frustrating – and ultimately dangerous too. In the case of a gunshot wound, would you tell the victim that he or she will be healed if they pray to God? No, you treat them. When people suffer, we help them. Yet because we cannot physically see the mental illness on someone, we assume it does not exist.

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Mental illness within the Muslim community is slightly different to wider society because of the excuses drawn up to avoid tackling it or the scenarios presented in understanding why someone is suffering in a situation. Firstly, child abuse and misogynistic abuse exists within the Muslim community. This can always contribute to mental health problems. Children who suffer from violence enforcement of discipline at an earlier age are more likely to suffer in their lives. Women trapped in bleak, and often violent, marriages out of fear of community shame and family estrangement can sometimes develop mental illness. But often the response of the community, particularly within the South Asian community, is to write all of this off as either lack of spiritual strength or supernatural possession.

You cannot scoff at this because then you’re branded as a heretic for refusing to acknowledge that demonic possession can be a factor. But these are the lengths that some will go to just to avoid admitting that mental illnesses exist. Why is unfathomable. There is nothing wrong in admitting its existence.

It needs to be discussed within the Muslim community, explored and acknowledged. Someone admitting to suffering from something like depression is not someone admitting to a lack of faith in God. It’s an illness, not a weakness. When we tell people simply to pray and hope they become better, it is a lazy negligence of our duties to help and protect those around us. There is nothing morally right about abandoning victims of mental illness under the façade that they need to become closer to God to feel happy. There is nothing morally correct about dismissing their illness as weakness.

So it’s time we stopped treating mental illness as something in a person’s head, realised they are extremely strong, rather than weak, for enduring it, and started to talk about it.