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How can classical Islamic understandings of mental health inform contemporary mental health practice?

How can classical Islamic understandings of mental health inform contemporary mental health practice?
So now that we’ve got an understanding of the relationship between Islam and mental health, the next question is how could this information be used to support Muslim mental health now? There are two elements to this. The first is awareness raising. And the second is what you might call Patient centric self-therapy. In terms of awareness for a Muslim client, to understand that what they are experiencing is a natural part of life that is experienced by anyone and everyone and is accepted as part of normal human life in their religion and in their religious traditions is tremendously normalising of the experience.
It’s very often that people with mental health conditions feel like what is happening to them is completely out of the ordinary, that nobody else is experiencing it, and that in some way they’re not meant to experience it because they are a Muslim person. Understanding that this is something that has been accepted as part of normal human life in their religion is tremendously comforting. There’s also the recognition that comes through the religion that flows from it, that trials come from God but so does respite. As God says, and Muslims will understand, Fa Inna Ma’al Usri Yura, with hardship comes ease. So respite comes from God and therefore the importance of being patient with the experience that one is going through.
There is an acknowledgment that it doesn’t mean that because you are experiencing depression or anxiety or another form of mental illness, that God is angry with you. This is something that is tremendously assuaging of hidden fears and torment that often plague a person with mental health problems. They feel that they are being punished by God and knowing that it has been spoken about in the religion and it is accepted as a normal part of life, that extends to everyone, including the very best, can remove this tremendous sense of guilt and uncertainty from them.
It also is a relief to know that this is a subject, that is to say, your religious views about what you’re going through, it’s something that a patient can be open about and talk about. This is very relieving for many people. A bit further on from that, you have self-therapy, ways that you can help yourself or that a professional can advise or encourage a service user to help themselves. So reading scripture in a psychological way, applying it to your life and to what you’re going through is what you might call narrative or story therapy.
So many Muslims will be aware of the trials that were undergone by previous prophets or by the Prophet Muhammad himself, peace and blessings upon them all, or by some of the great figures of Islam. And to be able to translate that into your own life and understand that just as they went through trials, I am going through trials as well, is very, very helpful. There are also Islam centric approaches to things like cognitive reframing, acceptance and commitment in the form of beliefs in the ultimately benevolent nature of what God has decreed.
The tests that He sends forth, the verses relating to patience and gratitude and so forth, and then using resources familiar to the patient, religious resources like Scripture, like the stories of those who came before is very helpful in helping those patients deal with the shock of the unfamiliar. So use the familiar religious resources to help deal with the shock of something unfamiliar, which is a mental health problem. So these are a number of ways that that knowing the relationship between Islam and mental health can support Muslim mental health right now, at this moment in time.

Throughout this activity, we have learned that mental health problems have been recognised as part of the human experience since the very earliest days of Islam. In this video, Dr Yusuf makes some practical recommendations about how practitioners might use this information when providing mental health support.

He suggests that knowing more about the relationship between Islam and mental health can improve mental health support for Muslims.

For example, practitioners can use this knowledge to raise awareness among Muslims with mental health problems that what they are experiencing is a natural part of life, and it is accepted as such in their religious tradition. And, importantly, that mental health problems are not a punishment from God.

Practitioners might also recommend religious practices as ‘self-therapy’ – ways in which those with mental health problems can help themselves. For example, through reading historical stories from Islamic history, Muslims might understand that key figures in Islam also went through trials and tribulations and overcame them, this might be a source of comfort for some.

Dr Yusuf tells us that attaining good mental health was, and should continue to be, seen as essential to attaining spiritual wellbeing for Muslims. In the next step, we move on to Activity 5, where we take a closer look at the impacts of Islamic practices or beliefs on mental health.

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Understanding Mental Health in Muslim Communities

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