The modern world is literally driving people crazy.
The data collected by the US government paints a sobering picture:
• More than 50% will be diagnosed with a mental illness or disorder at some point in their lifetime.
• 1 in 5 Americans will experience a mental illness in a given year.
•1 in 5 children, either currently or at some point during their life, have had a seriously debilitating mental illness.
•1 in 25 Americans lives with a serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or major depression.
Just imagine, more than half of the American population will be diagnosed with a mental illness or disorder within their lifetime. And yet, despite this, progressionists still emphatically tout the claim that we are living during the greatest era in human history.
The standard defense for this viewpoint usually goes as follows:
“People are simply becoming more attuned to the existence of mental illnesses and are thus showing greater concern for the well-being of others. People had the same mental health issues yesterday as they do today, but we used to turn a blind eye to it and not provide any proper treatment.”
However, it’s extremely difficult to submit to the claim that mental disorders were just as widespread in the past as they are now and just merely went unnoticed.
The ceaselessly growing list of mental disorders (with the exception of mental disorders driven by sexual degeneracy, which seem to just suddenly disappear as certain lobbying groups get larger) detailed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders may be due to gaining a deeper understanding of these conditions, but it could also stem from the extremely harsh and inhumane environment in the modern world. Progressionists should dive deeper into the root causes of these psychological illnesses and how they are strongly intertwined with specific environmental and social factors—factors which are not present in an Islamic society.
Depression is one of the most prevalent psychological disorders today’s society. But is it possible that the solution to this problem has been right in front of us all along, within Islam? It’s worth considering how psychotherapists treat depression and how their methods align with various Islamic practices for treating spiritual maladies.
The Correct Approach to Healing Depression: Tazkiyah and Prophetic Medicine
Here is what one of the leading experts on depression, Dr. Michael Yapko, says:
I don’t know if you saw the big announcement last year from the World Health Organization, but in 2004, the World Health Organization declared depression the number four cause of human suffering and disability behind cancer, heart disease, and traffic accidents.
They predicted that by 2020, depression would rise to be number two. In fact, depression reached number two in late 2013 and last year, around this time, depression was declared the number one cause of human suffering and disability. The numbers are increasing and there is no demographic group where the numbers are going down. When we look at the epidemiology, it’s the 25 to 44-year-olds who represent the largest group of depression sufferers, but the fastest-growing group is their children.
This is one of the things that I am deeply concerned about. Now, when you see a 14-year-old or a 15-year-old who’s already suffering from depression, shows the signs, and has the symptoms as dealing with it, that’s a basis for concern. What’s an even stronger basis for concern is what happens ten years from now when this depressed adolescent becomes a parent.
We now have three generation studies that show remarkably clearly that from one generation to the next, depression increases in prevalence and severity. I’m worried especially about the youngest among us who are at a very elevated risk.
The depression epidemic is a formidable foe that plagues our society. While many may believe that medication is the only solution, research has uncovered a more powerful approach. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy—or CBT—is a form of therapy that has been proven to be the most effective in treating depression.
Though the term may sound a little intimidating, CBT is simply a form of talking therapy which helps individuals manage their problems by changing their thinking patterns and behavior. The National Health Service (NHS) describes it as follows:
“Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a talking therapy that can help you manage your problems by changing the way you think and behave.”
It might be quite difficult to believe that the most effective treatment for depression lies not in medication but rather in the power of conversation and practical solutions. But it is true nevertheless. CBT is a powerful tool in the fight against depression.
Starling Minds, an organization specializing in providing mental health support, mentions the following:
Research shows that CBT is the most effective form of treatment for those coping with depression and anxiety. CBT alone is 50-75% effective for overcoming depression and anxiety after 5 – 15 modules. Medication alone is effective, however, science still does not understand the long-term effects on the brain and body. Medication and CBT combined are most effective in helping people overcome mental illness.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) highlights the great significance and importance of taking charge of one’s own thought process; and comprehending one’s emotions in the healing journey from depression. However, conventional psychology falls short in this regard since it does not acknowledge the fact that our flow of thinking is not solely influenced by materialistic processes but also by Shaytan, the accursed, who imprints negative ideas and emotions within us.
Anas (may Allah be pleased with him) said:
“While the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) was with one of his wives, a man passed by, and the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) called him and said, ‘So-and-so, this is my wife so-and-so.’ The man said, ‘Whoever I might suspect, I would not suspect you!’ The Prophet said, ‘Shaytan flows in the son of Adam like blood flows.’” (Al-Adab al-Mufrad)
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To gain a deeper understanding of this concept, let’s delve into Islam’s recommendations for those who are struggling with depression. These may include:
- Fulfilling one’s religious obligations, such as waking up early to pray five times a day and for men, attending the masjid and socializing with others.
- Developing a consistent routine (wird) of performing good deeds, such as dhikr; abundant salawat; reciting the Qur’an; and contemplating upon the revelation and creation of Allah (taddabur).
- Making supplications (du’a) that inspire visualization of desired outcomes; and fostering hope and optimism for the future. Positive thinking, a key component of du’a, is often a fundamental aspect of Cognitive therapies.
- Recognizing the influence of Shaytan in one’s actions and thought process and distancing oneself from negative influences by seeking protection through du’as and the performance of good deeds. For example, asking Allah for protection whenever negative thoughts arise and refraining from dwelling on these thoughts, which is similarly a key component of CBT.
The Islamic science of purification of the soul—or tazkiyah—offers a holistic and complete approach to healing depression. While Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is widely recognized as an effective treatment, the principles and practices that it encompasses have been present within the Islamic tradition for centuries.
Ait M’hammed Moloud, a French Muslim psychiatrist and author, highlights in his book, Psychological Diseases, that a significant proportion of the patients he treated had issues related to the Jinn. This further illustrates the limitations of modern psychology, which fails to fully grasp the intricacies of the soul and the unseen.
In contrast, tazkiyah and prophetic medicine offer a more comprehensive understanding of the soul and its connection to mental health.
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Islam as a Shield Against Depression: A Scientific & Spiritual Perspective
According to the research of Dr. Michael Yapko, there are five key risk factors that are commonly associated with depression:
- internal orientation;
- stress-generating decisions;
- rumination about negative and past events;
- global thinking; and
- unrealistic expectations.
However, Islam offers a unique system of law and guidance that can effectively counter these risk factors and protect believers from falling into depression.
Dr. Yapko defines internal orientation as the tendency to rely solely on one’s own feelings and perspectives when making decisions, which can lead to exaggerating reality and difficulty in understanding what is truly real. To combat this, he recommends the practice of cognitive flexibility, which involves training oneself to consider multiple explanations for events.
For example, a person suffering from internal orientation may believe that the reason behind a friend not responding to their message is a personal slight, leading to negative thoughts and even suicidal ideation. With cognitive flexibility, they would recognize that there could be other explanations for the situation and avoid jumping to negative conclusions.
Dr. Yapko also sheds light on the detrimental impact of stress-inducing choices on mental health. Those struggling with depression tend to lead a difficult and unwell lifestyle as a result of impulsive decisions driven by emotions rather than logic. This is closely tied to the issue of internal orientation, as individuals are inclined towards making choices that create and aggravate stress rather than alleviate it. This is usually due to lack of rational thinking.
Islam is an invaluable guide for believers in navigating the complexities of life. It provides a framework for making sound judgments and developing cognitive flexibility. The teachings of Allah, as outlined in the Qur’an, encourage followers to base their decisions on principles rather than emotions; and to approach challenges with hope and optimism and a good opinion of Allah.
One of the key aspects of Islam is the emphasis on submitting to the guidance and laws of Allah, even if doing so may be difficult.
This is exemplified in the following verse:
For never have We sent any messenger but to be obeyed [by the people], with the permission of Allah. Thus, if after wronging themselves they had come to you, [O Muhammad,] and sought the forgiveness of Allah — and had the Messenger, as well, sought forgiveness for them — they most surely would have found Allah all-relenting, mercy-giving. But no! By your Lord, they will not [truly] believe until they make you the judge of whatever [disputes] break out among them, finding, then, no [sense of] constraint within themselves, as to [complying with] what you have decided — submitting [to it willingly] with a pure submission. (Qur’an, 4:64-5)
Islam also encourages the avoidance of negative assumptions, suspicion and mistrust. This is outlined in the following verse:
O you who believe! Shun much suspicion. For, indeed, certain kinds of suspicion are sinful. Nor shall you spy [on each other]. Nor shall you backbite one another. Would any of you like to eat his dead brother’s flesh? You would, most surely, abhor it. So fear Allah. Indeed, Allah is all-relenting, mercy-giving. (Qur’an, 49:12)
This promotes a healthy mindset, one free from the negative thoughts and emotions that can lead to depression. Both of these important Islamic principles greatly help towards preventing the first two key factors highlighted by Dr. Yapko, but, as we will see, there is more to it than just this.
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Islam, through belief in Qadr (divine fore-ordainment), offers a powerful solution to the third factor which Dr. Yapko’s research identifies as a risk factor for depression, i.e., the tendency of ruminating over past and future events.
A true believer does not worry about the future and does not waste time wallowing in remorse over past decisions or events. They understand that everything is predetermined and that overthinking things will change neither the past nor the future. Through their belief in Qadr, believers learn the concept of tawakkul (trust and reliance in Allah), where they trust in the goodness of Allah, even in circumstances that may appear difficult.
The Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) said:
“The ways of a believer are strange, for there is good in every affair of his. This is not the case with anyone else except in the case of a believer. If he has an occasion to feel delight, he thanks (Allah), thus there is good for him in it. And if he gets into trouble and shows resignation and endures it patiently, there is good for him in it.” (Sahih Muslim, 2999)
To rid oneself of the cycle of rumination, Dr. Yapko offers a solution: to transform it into meaningful and productive action. This concept, once again, echoes the teachings of Islam, where believers are encouraged to make a decision through the prayer of consultation (salat al-istikharah) and place their faith in Allah.
And so, [O Muhammad,] it was by the sheer mercy of Allah that you were lenient with them [after their disobedience at Uhud]. For had you been harsh and hard-hearted, then they would have disbanded from around you. So pardon them. And seek forgiveness for them. And take counsel with them concerning the [community’s] affairs. Thereafter, if you become resolved [on a matter, O Muhammad], then rely upon Allah [alone]. Indeed, Allah loves those who rely [only on Him]. (Qur’an, 3:159)
Islam not only promotes decisive action but also encourages the pursuit of healthy habits to avoid the pitfalls of procrastination and aimlessness. In contrast, those who do not follow this principle may resort to escapism and seek refuge in dangerous coping mechanisms such as addiction, which only exacerbates their depression.
Does Islam also help in preventing unrealistic expectations, the last factor highlighted by Dr. Yapko?
Let us pause and consider the source of unrealistic expectations. People entertain unrealistic expectations because they place their trust in things and people other than Allah. Conversely, those who entrust their hopes to Allah and defer themselves to Allah’s will are immune to disappointment. They understand that Allah’s superior knowledge and wisdom make Him the ultimate decision-maker.
When we depend on worldly things for our expectations, we run the risk of either being let down or overvaluing these things. But with Allah as our anchor in this life, such misgivings are nonexistent. For Allah is infallible, incapable of failure and all-powerful.
A devout Muslim who embraces and practices the teachings of Islam has everything they need in order to effectively combat and overcome sadness and depression. Though some Muslims may suffer from a loss of faith and depression, this is not as a result of Islam but rather due to its absence in their lives.
Suicide, driven by depression, has claimed countless lives. It’s too late to change that, but, perhaps, if we follow the guidance and teachings of Allah through His book and His prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace), we could save countless other souls. It’s time for the modern world to awaken and seek redemption. Instead of relying on costly academic research, which is usually hit-or-miss, let’s turn to the timeless and perfect wisdom of Islam.
The triumph of Islam over the ages serves as a testament to its effectiveness and veracity. For over a millennium, the Muslim world flourished without the burden of today’s modern-day problems.
Let this be a reminder that Islam holds the keys to overcoming all of your troubles, where science has ultimately failed.
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