In light of #WorldMentalHealthDay, Afroza discusses the stigma associated with mental health in our communities and what must be done to help those suffering in silence. (Please note, the article does contain some reference to ideas that may be sensitive to some readers).
Being brought up in a strict Muslim and South Asian household, conversations regarding mental health were next to non-existent. I was constantly reminded that if my faith was strong and I read my salaah, God would shelter me from any sort of sadness and heartache. If you were depressed, it was because you were lacking in deed or faith in God, or you were probably possessed. Having witnessed Ruqyah’s (‘exorcisms’) on people who were thought to be depressed, I realised that families were willing to spend hundreds for these people to rid their body of something that might not even be there.
“Allah never forbade us to seek medical help when it comes to health.”
The seeming reluctancy of our community to recognise and address mental health problems has not only seen to the capitalisation of Islamic practices, but has also seen to many Muslims being unable to get the help they need. It should be stated that Allah never forbade us to seek medical help when it comes to health, and as Muslims it is compulsory for us to take care of our bodies both mentally or physically. It’s not as though Islam condemns depression, however, cultural standards within the South Asian community make it out as if we are forbidden to.
Culture is to blame, not religion.
The line between culture and religion is VERY thin to many of our migrant families. Not only is there a lack of understanding of what mental health is, but there isn’t a single word that can accurately sum up what we mean when we talk about it. The stigma of mental health in the South Asian culture is a major setback for our community entirely. Even when we know we aren’t okay, we will refuse to seek help because of this inner conflict. You become afraid that somehow by speaking out, you will be causing conflicts within your family’s understanding of religion, or you’ll be seen as ‘straying away from cultural norms’, thus causing ‘shame’ to the family name if you dare to do so.
“Our whole lives are spent preparing for marriage and we are given too many responsibilities from a young age, our culture teaches us women that we need to fulfil these arrays of ideas simultaneously.”
South Asian women have one of the highest depression rates across the globe, perhaps it’s because Asian woman have this unwritten rule of playing more than one role within the family. The daughter whose whole life is spent preparing her for married life, the second mother, cleaning up after everyone and spending endless hours of perfecting your roti making skills so that you’re likely to get married quicker. Finally, you must be educated with a good job, but not too good because you’ll outshine the husband that doesn’t even exist yet. Our whole lives are spent preparing for marriage and we are given too many responsibilities from a young age, our culture teaches us women that we need to fulfil these arrays of ideas simultaneously.
Its just too much.
Throughout primary school to sixth form, I was heavily surrounded by South Asian and Muslim communities. No one spoke about how they were feeling within the classroom. Instead of helping those who struggled to attend school or college, teachers would brush it off as behavioural problems.
“People have it way worse than you do” is something I repeated to myself on the daily. It did nothing but make me feel worse about being ungrateful and not being able to see the positive light.
“I still couldn’t get rid of the numbness inside my chest.”
I only felt safe between my bed covers staring at the ceiling, just overwhelmed with how I let myself get to this point. Surely this wasn’t the same person from a year ago? Someone who genuinely had a passion for life and saw beauty in everything. The person, from a year ago, who never had a negative thought about anything? Now it felt as though everything was meaningless and a waste of time. Although I did my absolute best to pray 5 times a day, along with Quran and regular istigfaar, I still couldn’t get rid of the numbness inside my chest. Months and months went by. Slowly, I felt like my efforts of making Dua and crying myself sick on the prayer mat were going to waste – no one was listening to my cries for help.
Months still went by, I left my prayer mat to collect dust in the corner of my room. I found myself often thinking about how my family would react if I were to take my own life, and if I would go to hell for it. But after all, isn’t God all forgiving?
“I only defined myself by my depression and that’s not how I wanted to spend my life anymore.”
It took a while to find the motivation to re-kindle my relationship with God. After a few self-help books and an emotional trip to the GP, I did find myself becoming more ‘me’ again. I started reading more, picked up old hobbies and really went on a journey to find myself again, I only defined myself by my depression and that’s not how I wanted to spend my life anymore. I came to realise that my whole mental health issue was something I was fighting for myself and it was a true test from God.
My Salah is now my meditation and a time for me to connect with my creator once again, although I haven’t lost the feeling of numbness in my heart, I know I can get through whatever trials I am put through in this life. Now, being able to openly speak about it has helped my anxiety the most. Speak to anyone you can, whether that be a therapist, your neighbour, a friend or someone who can understand where you’re coming from at the least.
Don’t suffer in silence, bad times don’t last forever, our creator has promised that. We all need to make an attempt to eliminate any negative connotations. Let your whole family know it’s okay to not be okay, but make it clear that we are never going to progress if we constantly act like there’s no ignorance. The more we turn our backs on each other now, the bigger of an issue it becomes for those to come.
“So, verily, with every difficulty, there is relief: Verily, with every difficulty there is relief.” (Quran, 94: 5-6)
Afroza is studying PR and digital marketing and hates correcting people on the spelling of her name. She’s obsessed with the 90s era, from fashion to tv shows. When she isn’t binge watching anime, you can find her deeply invested in the latest issue of Vogue or scrolling through YouTube, looking for inspiration to create.