Support. Care. Understanding.
These are the most powerful ways that you can personally assist a person suffering with depression, which is perhaps the most misunderstood mental health problem in our community. Too often, family members and friends either neglect or don’t realize how critical their care and support are to their loved one who is experiencing depression.
Depression is an insidious condition that affects 1 in 10 Americans at one point in life. Approximately 8% of adults in Canada will experience major depression at some time in their lives. Over 121 million people globally suffer from some form of depression.
Thanks to the rising Islamophobia and anti-Muslim sentiments in media, politics, and institutions, depression is certainly on the rise among Muslims living in the West. One Yale University survey found that about 50% of all Arab-Americans surveyed had clinical signs of depression.
Signs and symptoms of depression vary from person to person. While professional counselling and medical intervention are highly recommended for cases involving serious or chronic forms of clinical depression, there is a lot you can do to ease the situation that your loved one is going through.
- Understand depression. Acknowledge that depression is a mental health problem. Given the taboo surrounding depression and mental health issues in the Muslim community, hardly anyone talks about depression. It is easy to treat depression as just a temporary emotional imbalance or a spiritual problem. You need to spend some time learning about the symptoms and possible remedies involving depression.
- Be there physically. Show that you are there to help your loved one go through this difficult period together. Acknowledge the seriousness of the individual’s condition and offer full support. Don’t belittle their pain. Be there to hug. Be there to show how much he or she means to you and to others.
- Simply listen. Active listening is an art that requires practice. A depressed individual may not be interested in lengthy advice from you. Simply taking the time to listen to and acknowledge his or her problems and concern brings a world of psychological relief.
- Try doing something out of routine. Surprise your loved one with gestures of love. If he or she feels comfortable, go out for a dinner, exercise together, take a stroll in the park, invite some intimate friends over, give a bouquet of flowers, or write a heart-felt card to express your love. Try different things on weekly basis to cheer up your loved one, but be careful not to overdo it.
- Show the bigger picture. Remind your loved one that things will get better sooner or later, God-Willing. “Surely, after hardship comes ease” (Quran 94:6). This is Allah’s promise. Sunshine is on the horizon as the dark clouds of sadness and depression move on.
- Be patient and don’t be judgemental. It is easy to get annoyed with a depressed family member or a friend and lose patience after a few days. A depressed individual often lacks energy and may find doing basic tasks difficult. He or she will test your fortitude and temper. Be ready for a range of mood swings. Do your best to remain calm and non-judgemental.
- Advise to limit bad news, and news in general. Majority of the local, national, international is bad news these days. Killing, accident, robbery, war, terrorism, hate-crime. It all adds up and brings our spirits down. Let your loved one know that he or she doesn’t have to listen to the depressing news to be an informed citizen. He or she can read instead and be selective to avoid further negativity.
- Share some good, positive articles, books, and lectures. There is a plethora of material out there, online, in print, and on videos, that can uplift your loved one’s spirit. It can be Islamic lectures or books on personal development. Positive messages and reinforcement are empowering during prolonged mental health situations.
- Encourage your loved one to engage in lot more Salah (prayer) and Zikr (remembrance). Remind them about Allah’s promise: “Verily, in the remembrance of Allah do hearts find rest” (Qur’an 13:28). For some, a deeper spiritual connection, prayer, and meditation may be the most effective relief from sorrow, depression, anxiety, at least temporarily.
- Daily, read the Quranic verses and Duas (supplications) for healing prescribed by the Prophet, peace be upon him. Believe it or not, your sincere recitation of the verses from the Quran and Sunnah for protection, healing, and health in front of your loved one could go a long way in reviving hope.
- Introduce Mindfulness meditation. “Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention on the present. When you’re mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience.”1 This exercise will help your loved one slowly come out of the doom and gloom mode, which is often filled with regrets of the past and fears of the future.
- Seek medical help. Encourage him or her to consult a psychiatrist, especially if symptoms get worse. If the individual becomes suicidal, seek urgent medical intervention.
Having a reliable supportive network of family members and friends is critical to ensure speedy recovery from depression.
As you provide comfort, care, and understanding to your loved one suffering with depression, keep this beautiful promise of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, in mind:
“He who relieves a hardship of this earthly life, for a believer, Allah will relieve a hardship of the Day of Resurrection for him; he who makes it easy for an indebted person, Allah will make it easy for him in this world and in the Hereafter; he who covers a Muslim (his mistakes and shortcomings), Allah will cover him in this world and in the Hereafter; Allah will be in the servant’s (time of) need, as long as the servant is in his (believing) brother’s need” [Sahih Muslim].