Dealing With Mental Illness

The Prophet (SAW) said “The Pen has been lifted from three: from the sleeper until he awakens, from the child until he reaches puberty and from the insane person until he comes to his senses -- or until he comes round.” Narrated by Abu Dawood (4403), al-Nasaa’i (3432) and Ibn Maajah (2041)

I took a stroll around my neighbourhood recently when I saw a familiar sister walking towards me, as I gestured to offer some salams, she crossed to the other side of the road, I was numb, wondering what just happened; then looked ahead and saw the cause. There was a mentally ill sister behind me and she didn't want to have anything to do with her.

This particular sister was always avoided by everyone everywhere even in the masjid, everyone steer clear from standing/sitting with her during solat. I find this very saddening. Our responses to mental illness in Nigeria is very disparaging and upsetting, but unfortunately the easiest ones is ridicule and/or avoidance. That’s is why most people with mental illness suffer in silence, disenfranchised from society and, to our collective shame, hardly come for needed prayers in the masjid. Giving the way things are happening now in Nigeria it is quite evident that many people are suffering from mental illness now than ever before and Muslims are virtually silent on the matter. In my experience, mental illness is a taboo subject in Islam. You could argue that it is a taboo subject in general but specifically in Islam. I have found that it can be incredibly difficult for people to understand (with the word “werey” constantly in their minds).

Mental illness makes us very uncomfortable. We all know someone or are related to someone locked up somewhere due to the disease.Why, as Muslims, do we not at least care about these people and show interest in them? It is quite evident that families with mental illness fear the intense stigma and shy away from openly sharing their problems and while those who take the pain to share their problems, find that Muslims do not know how to preach to them and give them beneficial advice.

Despite the growing size of psychiatrists and medical doctors in the Islamic community, most medical practitioners appear not to have been very well exposed to mental illness in relation to Islamic values and teachings during their educational careers. Also, many Muslims are hesitant to seek help from the other mental health professionals due to the differences in their beliefs and lack of understating of the helping professionals about Islamic values in their treatment modalities. Consequently, Muslims might feel uncomfortable in seeking psychiatric help to avoid being in conflict with their religious beliefs. As Muslims, this is how we can deal with mental illness - 

Provide Support 
"Believers are indeed brothers" (Al-Hujurat, verse 10)
As Muslims, our faith is not complete, and our worship is not sufficient, until we have built the strong bonds of brotherhood amongst ourselves. This fact is frequently forgotten by many Muslims, this verse was revealed to establish the bond of brotherhood between the believers. So it should be taken very seriously.
If you have a family member that may be suffering from mental disorders, approach them gently. Offer to listen, and have patience. People suffering from mental illness, support is all they need. The stigma has left some of them feeling alone and dejected. So your advice, cheerfulness, smile and gifts go a long way in helping people and families suffering from mental illness. 

Ask for help
Some Muslim families neglect the issue of mental illness because of a feeling that it brings shame on them and the reputation of the family. In Islam, we rely on God to heal us. If we are mentally ill and depressed, pray to God to make things better. 
We do our five prayers every day and make du’a (invocation) whenever possible. Believing in a higher power when feeling down is the most amazing thing to have in you. However, proper treatment also help the person suffering from mental illness to get to the root of the illness. 

Find A Support Group
Families need to talk openly about their problems to someone who is well trained. Also, create a support network of friends and family and with others with similar problem.
There is nothing wrong in asking for help. There is nothing wrong in going to your Imam and a doctor and admitting that you are experiencing a mental health problem and that you need psychological and spiritual help. This is also possible with a trusted friend, religious leader, chaplain, or medical professional or institutions and establishment. Counselors and therapists are also there to help. Whether it is a doctor, friend, or family member, build a bridge with someone who is willing to be in your corner.
However, there is a huge impact of Islamic religion and spirituality within psychiatric clinical practice. 

Adopt Islamic Values
Using Islamic values and beliefs can be beneficial in treatment of mentally ill Muslims, through incorporation of Islamic beliefs that help in drug adherence and modification of different psycho-therapeutic techniques to suit Muslim patients. Such aspects provide the basis for specific guidelines in working with Muslim mental health clients.

Be Patient and Persevere
Finally, helping and nursing the mentally ill is messy. It’s a long, long road. People with mental illness can improve, but they and their families need an incredible amount of support.  Often more than we want to give.

So what can we do this week? If you’re like me, then its time to help, its time we ditch that “I just don’t connect with her” excuse? Mental illness exists in our communities and we need to start helping.

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