The Islamic faith is not unfamiliar with tests and tribulations. This is the second 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.
From the Western perspective, we have “depression” and “anxiety.” Both of them are considered mental health disorders. Doctors, psychiatrists, and psychologists will have different ways of looking at them and assessing them, but they all kind of come around to a sense of discontentment. A sense that something is not right.
There is an absence of peacefulness, an absence of contentedness. It can be mild or very intense. it can be short or it can last very long. The mild and short versions tend to be the normal cycles of human life, all humans experience it. It is when it lasts very long that you need to start thinking about doing something actively about it.
Do you need to seek some help here?
The Experience That Comes With Depression and Anxiety
Those suffering from depression and anxiety may have very vivid descriptions about what it feels like. Some may feel like all the colour has been drained out of the world. Others may see it like there is no spice in the food. It is bland.
They may feel like there is no spark in life. Everybody will have their own experience of it.
Why Do People Get Depression and Anxiety?
At times, it may be quite clear. It could be due to losing a job, having a relationship problem, or experiencing the death of a loved one. These kinds of things are called a stressor.
Other times one may have no idea. You wake up one morning and the spark feels like it is gone. The joy is gone. People’s experiences can become severe. Although low mood and anxiety are universal human experiences that every single one of us will go through at some point in our lives, they can get very severe.
Some may feel on the verge of ending their life.
People may need a sense of perspective. They are in agony. Mental agony. A moment of agony that has been stretched out. They may feel like their current state will never end. This is where context is key.
It will end. All things come to and end. It is a long wave, but it is a wave. It is a night, after which comes day. There is a door. You cannot see it but that does not mean it is not coming.
Hopelessness is a very important symptom of clinical depression. Hopelessness and helplessness are some of the most difficult things to deal with.
The Mind and the Brain
Professionals refer to the bio-psychosocial model. Simply, the onset of these conditions is multifactorial. Things are going on in the world around you. Things are going on in your subjective space (your mind) and things are going on in your brain.
Your brain is not the same as your mind. Your brain is a collection of neurons. A hundred trillion connections exist between all the neurons in your brain. That is your brain. It has neurons and synapses and neurotransmitters and lobes and so forth.
Then there is your mind. Your mind is your “I.” It is your “me.” It is your subjective experience, your thought processes, your beliefs, the emotions that you experience, your memories, and your hopes and fears for the future. That is your mind.
Sometimes, the root of depression is in one’s biology. There is a problem with one’s neurotransmitters, for example.
Sometimes, the cause of depression or low mood is in one’s psychology. It is the thoughts you are having, the emotions you are experiencing, the memories that are coming back to you, and your fears about the future.
Other times, it is in one’s social context. What is going on around you? Such as a deadly pandemic, losing one’s job, worry about how to pay one’s bills, for example.
However, in many cases, it is a messy combination of one of those three. This is from a Western secular perspective. It is very much based on how we understand human beings.
These are effectively three theories merged into one. The first theory, the biological theory, treats the human being as a total of the neurons in their brain. So what is the “I”? It is the total of the neurons in your brain. Find the neurons that are going wrong or the chemical that is depleted, replace it, and problem-solve. That is the human being is a machine.
The second approach is the psychological approach. This views the human being as a bundle of memories, thoughts, beliefs, emotions, hopes, fears, and so on. When something twists in the wrong direction, you get depression, you get anxiety, and so forth. That is the human being in terms of their own subjective experience of themselves.
Another theory is the social theory of the human. The human is only understood in terms of their relationship. You cannot understand a human being except through their relationships with other people, the people around them, their work, their finances, and so on. If there is a problem in one of those things, it is going to stress you. There will be some depression and anxiety.
What was found is that it is not all biological. Sometimes that is all fine but there is still a problem. It is not all social because sometimes somebody has no social problems.
People have sought the good in each theory and put them together to get the picture. Generally, it works quite well. It is a nice holistic approach.
What is wrong with you and how you are feeling can partly be due to chemicals in your brain, and the way you are thinking. the emotions you are experiencing and some of it is about your social context.
What does a theological, theistic, or religious approach add to that? It adds one more dimension: The human being in terms of their most fundamental relationship, their relationship with the Divine. The connection to God and the understanding of all that they are experiencing based on that relationship.