Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Hasanat Centre for Islamic Studies, any of its departments, or affiliated organisations.
In recent times of advanced technology and modern lifestyle, mental health has been a topic discussed, investigated, and analysed by many specialists. Currently, the pandemic is believed to not only have had an effect on individuals physically, but their mental health has been impacted greatly due to the regulations put in place and the need to isolate as a result. There are many angles mental health can be spoken about but in this article the main focus will be defining mental health, mental ill-health and the Islamic perspective on mental health.
What is mental health?
‘Mental health’ is a term that has recently been thrown around regularly, especially through the media due to the pandemic. It is believed the mental health of people has been suffering because of the isolation they have been experiencing with of all the regulations of protecting oneself and others from the deadly virus. The real question is, many people will regularly use the term and other words related to mental health but do they actually know what the words mean? Have they just become buzz words lost in the abyss of mass-information? Do the words actually mean what we think they mean?
Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. Mental health not only affects the way we think, feel and act but also how we handle stress, relate to others and make choices. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), mental health is:
“a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community”
What is mental ill-health?
Menntal ill-health is believed to be very common as it affects one in four people in the course of their lives. The impacts start early as the onset of mental ill heath often starts in childhood, adolescence and young adulthood. Mental ill health, like physical ill health, often has its roots in the interaction between the individual’s genetic, biological, neuro-developmental and other fundamental attributes.
There is a misconception that mental ill-health is not possible for a Muslim as they should have full faith in God for all affairs in their life. This is a dangerous mentality to have as the individual that then does experience a mental illness such as, depression or experiences excessive negative thoughts, are accused of lacking in faith when they may be in need of medication or therapy.
“There is no disease that Allah has created, except that He also has created its treatment” (Hadith)
There is science that shows the physiological changes that occur when somebody is under stress that could lead to a mental illness if prolonged. The hadith above suggests that if an illness exists, Allah will have also created with it the cure.
If one was to monitor the neural changes that occur when we are told the word ‘No’, it can be seen that stress producing hormones and neurotransmitters are released. When these chemicals are released, they disturb the normal functioning of the brain, impairing reason, logic, communication and language processing. Prolonged thinking about destructive language can lead to the damage of key structures that control feelings, emotions and memory.
As mentioned previously, this will then impact everyday life through disrupted sleep, a change in eating habits and the ability to feel happy in oneself. The longer an individual ruminates on this negativity; it increases the release of chemicals in our brain resulting in an increase in anxiety and irritability. This links to the cognitive perspective on how thought patterns impact one’s mental wellbeing. This knowledge on the processes that occur in the body suggests that it is possible to have an imbalance that can impact the mental health of an individual so one may be advised to take medication alongside therapy. If a Muslim is advised to take medication for a mental illness, they would take it knowing it is a means of cure provided by Allah.
The ‘mind’ in Islam
Islam emphasises the value of good mental health and well-being. There are many daily practices that are there to help support this. For example, the five daily prayers are a means for an individual to retire from everyday activities and focus on themselves, Allah and self-reflection.
The word ‘mind’ cannot directly be translated in the Arabic language. The Qur’an describes destructive emotions and harmful conditioning as Nafs Ammara or the commanding self. The Qur’an and Prophetic example gives guidance to help overcome the inner turmoil that we experience, caused by the Nafs Ammara and bring the peaceful self or Nafs al-Mutma’inna into being. Interestingly, ‘Psyche’ in Greek means both mind and soul interchangeably.
Additionally, the Prophet (peace be upon him) mentioned that every child that is born, is born upon a ‘fitra’. This suggests that there is an element of the human personality that is innate and then there is environmental influence. The term ‘fitra’ has many meanings but one of them could be understood to be in one’s genetic make-up.
Muslims spend their life trying to attain the peaceful self through various means, ultimately to gain closeness to The Creator and return back to their natural state.
How to keep mentally healthy in Islam
“Surely We will test you with something of fear, hunger, loss of wealth, lives and fruits; but give glad tidings to the patient ones”
In this verse of the Qur’an, it can be understood that as a believer, one will be tested through such means. Understanding this verse is a way for a Muslim to prepare themselves for calamities so when they are going through a difficult time in their life, they can remind themselves of the word of Allah. It says during a test, showing patience is a good state to be in. However, it is important to note that if there is a danger to an individual in any form, they are to take the best response in dealing with it.
“If you are grateful, I shall most certainly give you more”
Gratitude is a crucial and significant aspect of the Islamic faith but it is also become a very popular idea in modern psychology. Research is beginning to show that an attitude of gratitude cultivates happiness and wellbeing. Often therapists encourage individuals to reflect and highlight the good parts of their life to develop a ‘positive mindset’. The above verse emphasises that a grateful heart will lead to an increase in the blessings from Allah. This gives hope and confidence that there is much reward in having a state of gratitude, not only spiritually but also in other aspects of life. There are many ways for an individual to show gratitude. Some have recommended saying a prayer consistently morning and evening or even a gratitude journal to help with reflection.
“For indeed, with [every] hardship, there is relief. Indeed, with [every] hardship, there is relief”
This verse should give hope to every believer, especially during their times of difficulty. There is always relief with every hardship. The repetition further emphasising the point. How beautiful is that? To know that Allah is guaranteeing you that there is goodness in your hardship, even if it is difficult to see in that very moment.
“Indeed, Allah never breaks His promise.”