There’s an idea that depression is a sign of weakness of Imaan (faith). Islamic psychologists don’t agree.
Depression is as much a physical disorder as psychological. It is caused by disruptions in levels of chemicals in the body, imbalance of certain hormones and neurotransmitters.
The brain of a depressed person also slightly differs from those of a normal person such that their logical problem-solving capabilities are weakened.
All this proves that depression cannot be categorically declared to indicate weakness of faith. Having said that, faith and depression are interconnected in that one affects the other. It’s not a cause and effect relationship, rather it’s a relationship of mutual influence, and physical health is also a part of the equation.
A depressed person can find solace in spirituality. On the other hand, if you’re not psychologically fit, it also makes you spiritually and physically unfit.
Spirituality gives us some valuable tools with which to combat depression. That doesn’t mean that a depressed person no longer needs to see a doctor, or that he or she won’t feel down and lethargic in performing acts of worship. It only means that a spiritually active person is better able to fight depression than everyone else.
Ramadan can be taken as a therapy-course for depression in many ways. Being aware of these tools will help us better use them to disperse the cloud and bring sunshine into our lives once again, InshaAllah.
1- Fasting Improves Mood
Scientists don’t know as yet why it is so, but fasting does improve one’s mood. The scientific definition of fasting is slightly different from the Islamic definition, but nonetheless, they are similar enough to be able to extend the beneficial effects.
“Many clinical observations relate an early (between day 2 and day 7) effect of fasting on depressive symptoms with an improvement in mood, alertness and a sense of tranquility reported by patients.” (Fond)
This Ramadan, I intend to observe closely the effects of fasting on my mood. If the clinicians’ observations are correct, it should increase alertness, positive feelings, sense of well-being and even euphoria.
I was surprised to see the number of pop books available on the subject, teaching and training you to fast in effective ways, and elaborating on the benefits of doing so.
However, there has been comparatively little scientific research or survey on the topic.
One research found, “In a prospective uncontrolled trial, the effects of modified fasting (250 kcal / d) for 2 weeks in 52 inpatients with chronic pain and metabolic syndrome were reported (Michalsen et al., 2002).
Over 80% of fasters showed a rapid decrease in depression and anxiety scores with an average weight loss of 6.6 kg and a normalization of blood pressure.” (Fond)
The results are quite impressive. Muslim researchers should examine this phenomenon and acquire stronger evidence for its validity.
2- The Quran as Therapy
One of the most successful types of therapy for depression is called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).
The main basis of CBT is the crucial role played by our mind and thoughts in rousing our emotions. External events do not affect our emotions by themselves, CBT researchers argue; they only affect us based on our interpretations of the events.
For example, a person who’s just been fired from his well-paying job will feel different emotions based on different interpretations of the situation. If he interprets his losing the job because of personal incompetence, he will feel sad and guilty.
On the other hand, if he thinks that his boss kicked him out because of a personal bias against him, he will feel anger at the latter.
The Quran is the best form of CBT, because it comes directly from our Creator. The jobless man in our example doesn’t really know which of his inferences is right, but we can be absolutely sure that each and every one of Quran’s interpretations of events is correct.
So when, after experiencing a loss, we read: “’If you are grateful, I will surely increase you…”, we can be certain that if we are grateful for what we have, Allah will give us much more.
Let me share a personal experience. I lost a pet cat some time ago. I was completely heartbroken, and then I remembered:
[He] who created death and life to test you [as to] which of you is best in deed – and He is the Exalted in Might, the Forgiving. (67:2)
I remembered that if I pass this test of death, I will meet my baby again soon.
If only we connect with the Quran on a daily basis, we will realize the benefits of receiving CBT from Allah. This Ramadan is an excellent opportunity of doing so. The devils are chained up, so that they can’t whisper negative, depressing thoughts into our minds. On top of that, fasting helps us develop taqwa, which is the key to opening up the treasures of guidance, as Allah says:
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This is the Book about which there is no doubt, a guidance for those conscious of Allah (al-muttaqin). (2:2)