Dealing With Depression: Abu Zaid Balkhi

The Islamic faith is not unfamiliar with tests and tribulations. This is the tenth in a series of articles on depression according to Islam. It is from the On Demand Course: Mental Health Workshop – An Islamic Guide to Dealing with Depression.

Abu Zaid Balkhi is famous for his work “The Sustenance of the Souls.”  This is effectively a manual of mental health and mental illness, and it is meant for us, not just for doctors. 

In the last section, Abu Zaid goes into depressive-type illnesses, anxiety-type illnesses, obsessive-compulsive-type illnesses, and what he calls anger (by which he means paranoia) and the like. 

He talks about these things and breaks them down. He looks at different types of treatments also. But, he is not doing this to help doctors in his day diagnose and treat mental illness. He is doing it to help the informed, educated Muslim public. He is writing it as a self-help book. A guide to patients and carers. 

Help One Another

The idea that there are things one can do to help oneself when going into a mental health crisis is something that he tackles. He does mention however that, there comes a point where the person is unable to help themselves. 

That is the point where they need support. Abu Zaid mentions how that support can be informal or formal. If you like, it can be amateur or professional.

The professional part is obvious. You go to the doctor for example. It is the amateur bit that concerns me. What can the concerned family member, the concerned friend, the concerned neighbor, do to help their neighbor, friend, brother, sister, mother, father, or child? What can be done to help one another?

Manner of Assistance

Muslims want help with their mental health. They turn to professionals, and those professionals, Abu Zaid says, very quickly become overwhelmed by the demand. There is a lot of demand, and there is only so much available time.

Therefore, we ought to know the proper manners of helping somebody who is going through a psychological difficulty or mental health crisis. It is important to be able to do this for one another, for oneself, and to uplift the community in total in this way.

The professionals can then deal with the most serious cases, the ones that need professional help. 

What is a Psychological Crisis?

The first thing is to understand what is meant by a psychological or mental health crisis. This is one of those things where you will recognize it. There are certain manifestations of this.

This is not a case of simple sadness. Being depressed is not just about being sad. Sadness, just like happiness, is part of the ebbing and flowing of normal daily life. Allah says 

وَأَنَّهُۥ هُوَ أَضۡحَكَ وَأَبۡكَىٰ

“And that He alone makes to laugh or cry” [Quran, 53:43; tr. Keller, The Quran Beheld]

These are the seasons of your soul. Depression is more profound than that.

Fundamentally, depression is a loss of hope. Patients may feel like the food has got no spice in it or all the colour has drained out of their life. There is a loss of hope and enjoyment of things. A deep feeling of sadness, settling into your depths, accompanied often by a sense of helplessness and a sense of hopelessness.

Asking for Help

That is fairly straightforward to recognize in many cases. Not in all cases, however, as these things are expressed differently by different people. A woman might express the way she is feeling being more emotionally intelligent, more in touch with their feelings, and more willing to talk about them and communicate with them.

Men may be very different. They may not talk about it. It may be seen by some as not manly to talk about these matters. They may then turn to trying to cope with it by drinking, for example. 

Furthermore, an older person might manifest their psychological or emotional distress physically. It might be in aches, pains, tiredness, fatigue, worry about their physical health or other things similar. 

For a non-professional, as someone who wants to help people, you should look for a change. A behaviour change is often an indicator that something is not right. 

Mercy and Awareness

A person may be quiet due to their temperament and personality. However, as for a person who used to be extroverted and then suddenly becomes introverted, there may be something happening there. 

Or consider a person who used to be confident and jovial and suddenly seems to have lost all of their self-esteem, lost all of their confidence. Sometimes it goes down in increments. It is worthwhile sometimes looking at people and saying, “How are they different from the way that they were three months ago?” Rather than, “How are they different from how they were last week?” 

Can you see a change? Is it a change for the worse? Does it seem to you like the happiness has gone out of their lives? Have they become quite anxious? Have they started to withdraw socially? Are they not looking after themselves the way that they used to? 

What Mercy Entails

Mercy entails awareness, willingness, ability and presence. Have an awareness that there is a person in need. Secondly, have the willingness to bring about a change. Thirdly, is doing something, to the best of your ability. Fourthly, be around to do so. 

The fullness of mercy and compassion is not just having an incoherent desire that I wish things were better. It is doing something about it. However, before that, there needs to be an awareness that there is a problem.