IF YOU’RE DOWN ON THE PRAYER MAT, YOU’LL NEVER BE DOWN ON LIFE.
The prevalence of all major types of disorders You lay awake at night, unable to sleep, unable to find respite while the world rests. You ache, yet no one can feel your pain. You feel alone, even when surrounded by a sea of people.
Mental illness affects all of us, indirectly if not directly. The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) says that in any given year, 1 in 5 Canadians will experience a mental health problem or illness. The remaining four Canadians will interact with a family member, friend, or colleague who is suffering.
In the last decade alone, the prevalence of all major types of disorders have increased (Kern, Ceglarek, Phillips, 2017). The rate of mental health treatment has increased from 19% to 34% and the percentage of young people (aged 15- 25) with mental health disorders has increased from 22% to 36% (America College Health Association, 2015).
Most harrowingly, suicidal ideation and attempts have increased from 19% to 39% (America College Health Association, 2015; Kern et al., 2017). We live in the most technologically advanced era where we are more connected than ever, yet we are the loneliest people to have ever existed. In 2015, the World Health Organization (WHO), found that 50% of Americans over the age of 18 consider themselves to be lonely.
Causes of Strife Over the course of time, we have developed a significant understanding of diseases of the body; however, we are struggling to understand ailments of the mind. Perhaps, because our very definition of health is incomplete. The WHO defines health as a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity (2019). Yet, it lacks one very important aspect of health, spiritual health, without which we cannot adequately address issues related to mental or physical health.
An age-old solution may seem hard to believe, but the solutions to many of the crises we are experiencing today were given to us over 1400 years ago through the religion of Islam and its Holy Book. It is unique in the sense that Islam is the only religion that takes into consideration its practitioners’ health in all aspects, physical, mental, social, and spiritual, and commands them to lead their lives in such a manner that health is optimized. Furthermore, the Holy Quran goes further in its teachings to identify why such ailments arise.
In a class with Jamia Ahmadiyya Canada, in 2016, Hazrat Khalifatul Masih V (aa), was asked about the stark rise of mental illness and if there was anything that could be done from an Islamic
perspective. Hazoor (aa), responded by referencing Chapter 13, verse 29 of the Holy Quran, that
‘It is in the remembrance of Allah that hearts can find comfort’. Hazoor (aa) explained that this is
the root cause of the ailment that people are suffering.
They are turning away from God, and as a result are suffering. Hazoor (aa), went on to explain that there are other causes for mental health issues, for instance parents worrying for their children, financial concerns and environmental
However, the solution for all of them is the same, putting one’s trust in Allah Almighty, building a relationship with Him and turning to Him in these difficult times. Hazoor (aa), explained that this remedy of religion has been iterated by the Promised Messiah (as), that he came to bridge the divide that man insinuated in his relationship with God.
Moreover, in his Eid sermon on June 5th, 2019, Hazoor (aa) again addressed mental health. He
explained that Islam is a natural religion that takes care of all of man’s needs. Huzoor (aa) spoke
about man’s inherent nature as a social being. It is for this reason that Islam instructs us to take
part in such festivals, like Eid, and be around one another and enjoy such occasions.
On other occasions, he has encouraged those with mental health issues not to retreat into isolation, rather
proactively seek social engagement. To that end, Huzoor (aa) has advised such members to
become further engaged with the jamaat.
Recent findings in the International Journal of Social Psychiatry (2015) stress the importance of
social interaction for those struggling with mental illnesses. Sheridan et al. (2015) found that
regardless of socialization structure, unstructured vs. structured, participants displayed
significant improvements in depressive and anxiety symptoms. Participants’ psychotic episodes
were also decreased in time.
Similarly, it was found that participants receiving communitybased care in the treatment of major depressive disorder (MDD) lead to significant reductions in MDD episodes both in frequency and intensity (Khodyakov et al., 2014). Within community based- care, participants were actively involved in some sort of community engagement exercise, a key
aspect of this program leading to its’ success. Multiple studies have shown that community
involvement, specifically religious community involvement, buffers against mental health illness
and reduces the likelihood of substance abuse (Parenteau, 2018; Salsman, 2019). Once again, the
words of the Khalifa of the time ring true; increasing participation within jamaat activities can
act as a buffer against and mitigate the effects of mental illness.
Never Lose Hope
Where needed and advised by appropriate authorities within the medical field, we should pursue
recommended medical treatments. After all, Allah the Almighty has created medicine for the
benefit of man. That being said, we cannot ignore the solution offered to us within the Holy
Quran. Whether we are afflicted with mental illness or not, we should make our relationship with
Allah Almighty our top priority. Remember these words of the Promised Messiah (as)
“One should never lose hope. God can change the circumstances in no time. You should make
good use of the days of peace and health.
He who turns to God during the days of peace or health
he is helped by God at the time of adversity and ill health. To repent with a sincere heart is like
being in a castle and nobody can attack him from outside.” (Malfoozat vol. 10, pg. 380)
“From God we come and to God we return.” The most common meaning of this verse of the
Holy Qur’an, is that God gives us physical life, and then when He causes us to die, we return to
Him in the spiritual realm. However, there is another possible meaning to this, and in it, a clue to
overcoming despair. Often times when a person hits rock bottom, he then returns to God. It’s
almost another way of God telling us to realize that generating happiness comes from turning
back towards Him, by spending time with Him. In fact, God has naturally built this into man.
When he is facing danger or is at his limit he turns to God for Help; that is the natural spiritual
reflex when you are at the end of the line.
Therefore the remedy for this spiritual disease of
despair, for the individual and society, is to return back to God sincerely, and actually follow
what He has prescribed for us. It is no coincidence that this happens to be exactly the opposite of
what is prescribed to us by modern society,
which has now clearly been proven to not work.