“Have you heard the shocking news? Apparently, a man committed suicide in Mecca. Terrible, terrible news!”, that’s how I first heard about the tragic death that happened in the midst of Ramadan, in a place that is holy for millions of people around the world.
My initial response was one that most of us will have when hearing about this. I was shocked and felt (still feel) very bad. I cannot begin to imagine what kind of thoughts, sadness or despair the man had gone through. Precisely because of this, I won’t be speculating anything. Quite often, after we hear horrible news, we think we have the right to assume things about the persons involved. We think we can analyze their actions, or that we know their story. Well, frankly, we don’t. And out of respect for him, I will not pretend that I know anything more about his personal life than his way of death. May God have mercy upon his soul.
Mental Health Problems in our Muslim Community
A lot of people underestimate what depression means or looks like, but I can assure you: it’s unfortunately as real as cancer is. Many mental health illnesses are a cancer for our well-being, our psychological health and, because of it, it’s ultimately also a cancer for our physical health. It’s as if you are in a very deep hole and whatever you do, you can’t manage to get out of it. For me, depression started to create a new identity for myself. Isolation, anxiety, pessimism, impatience and a lot of self-doubt. The whole world tells you that you’re doing great things, that you’re a good person and that you’re strong, but you can’t see anything about yourself except the dark thoughts that keep circulating in your head. I did not know what depression truly meant until I lost both my father and my brother in the same short period and I can assure you, people don’t make it up.
In that period, I started to get closer with people who were struggling as well. The people who are often isolated themselves, or, on the contrary, people who look very confident and happy, but are so broken from the inside. Unfortunately, they all told me the same things. They couldn’t talk to others about their depression, because not everybody is as ‘open-minded’ as I am. “Well, I did tell my family that I’m having suicidal thoughts, but they keep telling me to pray more”, another one told me that friends of her told her that she “probably felt that way because she became less of a practicing Muslim” and that the solution is to “turn to God and ask for His help. God will guide you through every kind of hardship”.
It’s needless to say that I felt, and still feel, a lot of anger towards people who say such shallow things. No, people don’t get depressed because they don’t pray enough or because they want ‘unislamic things’. If you would listen, you would have known why the persons who needs your understanding, feel that way.
I can assure you, if you would just listen, without any judgement, with your ears, but more importantly, with your heart, the person who’s struggling would already feel better. Yes, just by listening. Because the feeling that the world doesn’t understand your pain, is one of the biggest issues that depressed persons are struggling with. Afterwards, you can try to give them advice that relates to what they’re feeling. For example: try cutting out the toxic people that are giving you that feeling. Or: change your environment. But more importantly, tell them it’s okay to reach out for professional help. Help them with making an appointment with a psychologist or a doctor. For a struggling person, looking for help is a very difficult step. If you help them with it, you possibly have saved a life. A person who just had a heart attack or a stroke, will immediately go to a hospital. We don’t tell them to pray away the problem.
If God is Compassionate, He’s Also Understanding
In many occasions, people don’t speak about the socio-psychological context of tragedies. They don’t speak about why there are so many depressed people, why people commit suicide, why people divorce, start doing drugs, or leave persons behind. They, first of all, gossip about these people and, secondly, try to decide if what these persons, whatever it is that they did, is haram and, therefore, are sinners. In our communities, that’s one of the most important question people ask when confronted with these kind of situations, and it’s despicable. Religion doesn’t work that way. If you believe in a compassionate God, as you begin every verse ‘in the name of the most Compassionate, the most Merciful’, you won’t be jumping on juicy gossips to make a sinner or a heretic out of a person. You would try to prevent these things to happen to other people. You would try to open up the discussion and tell your beloved ones, but also people that you know less, that they can always be honest with you and you will always be ready to help them out. You would try to drag people out of the dark pit they are in, instead of bricking it up and let it turn into a grave.
It can start by simply listening to people. By not telling them they are not faithful or pious enough, but by telling them they are loved, they are not crazy, they are not sinners because of having bad feelings, doubts or dark thoughts, and reach your hand out to them. Let us be more compassionate and more kind. We can, literally, save lives by it.