Improving Mental Health; Where Medicine meets Islam.
“Some people think that depression is a purely spiritual phenomenon. They say that if you have iman you’ll never be depressed. They say if you believe in Allah, you cannot & should not go see a psychiatrist whereas the fact of the matter is that depression is a multi-disciplinary issue, it’s not easily categorized. Yes it is true that some aspects of depression can be helped via spirituality but it is also true that some people no matter how much spirituality they have, they would need to go to a medical practitioner” ~ Sh. Yasir Qadhi
You see the thing is, Islam does not require us to be superhuman. As a Muslim, you get affected by life’s troubles and disturbing thoughts like everyone else, the only difference is that you have a head start in dealing with it because you have a sense of purpose. There’s a clear roadmap of where you came from, where you’re going & why.
However, If one experiences negative feelings, he is encouraged to resist them with positive thoughts and actions if possible or to seek professional help if the case is clinical.
While clinical depression requires proper professional treatment, the occasional feeling of sadness due to factors ranging from economic difficulty to harassment and discrimination can be helped through some simple spiritual practices. Let’s take a look at some of these practices & the effect they have on our brain.
Interestingly, neurological studies showed that when we perform prayers with deliberate focus (Khushoo’), there’s decreased activity in the frontal lobes- hypo-frontalization as well as increased activity in the basal ganglia & anterior Cingulate gyrus.
Now hypo-frontalization is extremely important to our topic because of its association with mental health. The transient hypofrontality hypothesis developed by Arne Dietrich in 2006 asserts that decreased activity in the frontal regions can produce a therapeutic effect in certain mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The anterior cingulate gyrus, on the other hand, is involved with emotional regulation, learning, and memory, and plays a major role in lowering anxiety and irritability, and enhancing emotional and social awareness. So increased activity in that area = decreased anxiety & depression. How beautiful is that? Subhanallah!
For those of you who are interested in finding out more details about the brain activity during Salah, here you go; Neurophysiology of Islamic Prayer
Ḥudhayfah said, “When the Prophet S.A.W would be in an overwhelming situation, he would pray ṣalah.” Salah itself can indicate a form of therapy as indicated by our beloved Prophet. *trying to keep calm because 🤯*
ROLE OF PATIENCE & ACCEPTING QADR:
Islam attaches great importance to patience and it is the focus of about 200 verses of the Quran and referred to indirectly in many others.
Now, it is widely believed that a serotonin (feel good neurotransmitter) deficiency plays a role in depression.
Recent research has concluded that optimal levels of serotonin help with controlling behaviors and regulating your mood. This means with the right levels of serotonin, you are less likely to act impulsively and will feel at ease, even when you are frustrated. Scientists have shown that activating serotonin neurons while waiting, promotes patience for delayed rewards. This research has been published in The Journal Current Biology
By exercising patience, you activate your serotonin neurons which leads to an increase in serotonin levels which makes you less likely to feel down & more likely to be content & happy.
The ability to find meaning in adversity is a key quality that protects against depressed mood and anxiety during intense trials. This can be achieved by accepting God’s Decree.
Ṣuhayb reported: The Prophet S.A.W, said, “Wondrous is the affair of the believer as there is good for him in every matter, and this is not true for anyone but the believer. If he is pleased, then he thanks Allāh and there is good for him. If he is harmed, then he shows patience and there is good for him.”[
Viktor Frankl, outlines the meaning-based psychotherapeutic approach that helped him and others cope with the horrors they experienced in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning.
Bonus tip; Constantly Say Hasbun Allahu wa Ni' mal Wakeel. "God suffices me and He is the best guardian."
HAVING HOPE IN ALLAH S.W.T;
In Islam, we’re constantly reminded to have hope in Allah S.W.T, that come what may, He’ll never abandon His servant.
The positive physiological effects of hope are well-documented, most eloquently in Jerome Groopman's "The Anatomy of Hope," where he writes: "Researchers are learning that a change in mind-set has the power to alter neurochemistry.”
"Belief and expectation -- the key elements of hope -- can block pain by releasing the brain's endorphins and enkephalins, mimicking the effects of morphine. In some cases, hope can also have important effects on fundamental physiological processes like respiration, circulation and motor function." Subhanallah! You know sometimes when people tell us to have hope we tend to look at it as them giving us a useless piece of information at that specific moment in time but just look at this.
Hope allows a person to transcend the current situation and live for a better future. Thus, when our backs are against the wall and we feel alone in our fight, we realize that the person who has no one else has Allāh.
The Names and Attributes of Allah represent the solutions to all of our problems. When we can’t seem to put our life together after being hit with calamity after calamity, we recognize our strength lies in Al-Qadīr (The One with Ultimate Power).
The Prophet ﷺ said,
Whoever is afflicted with grief or anxiety, then he should pray with these words, ‘Oh Allāh, certainly I am your slave, the son of your male slave and the son of your female slave. My forehead is in Your Hand. Your Judgment upon me is assured and Your Decree concerning me is just. I ask You by every Name that you have named Yourself with, revealed in Your Book, taught any one of Your creation or kept unto Yourself in the knowledge of the unseen that is with You, to make the Qurān the spring of my heart, and the light of my chest, the banisher of my sadness and the reliever of my distress.’
I’m not a licensed medical practitioner (yet In Sha Allah) neither am I a scholar. Frankly, I’m no one. I got most of this information from extensive research; this is NOT a cure for depression. I would like to reiterate that if you feel the need to visit a medical practitioner, then please do.
Oh Allah None has the right to be worshipped except You, The Forbearing. None has the right to be worshipped except You, Lord of the magnificent throne. None has the right to be worshipped except You, Lord of the heavens, Lord of the Earth and Lord of the noble throne. There is no ease except in that which you have made easy, make the affairs (both the hidden & the disclosed) of those reading this easy for them, & make the patience they’ve exercised in dealing with those trials a means for them to enter Jannah for You know & We know not.