Depression. One of the most commonly used terms to describe a number of emotions: sadness, apathy, or just the blahs. True depression, however, is mostly misunderstood. Depression includes symptoms such as a reduced interest in normal activities, insomnia, fatigue, diminished ability to think clearly, and recurrent thoughts of death, which may include suicidal ideation (DSM-V, 2013). To be diagnosed with depression, an individual needs to have five or more of the symptoms occur over at least a two week period. In other words, it’s multiple things over a long period of time. Depression isn’t sadness over a failing grade or One Direction breaking up. It goes deeper, much deeper.
The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) states that approximately 25% of adults in the U.S. have depression, anxiety, or both. About 16 million people live with depression in any given year. That is a lot of people and as Muslims living in the U.S., those numbers include us. I know we don’t like to speak about it because if someone were to find out, what would they think of us? The risk we run in not talking about this is suffering alone and not helping others going through the same thing. Because, believe me, there are others experiencing the same.
Sometimes, all these feelings and thoughts may become too much. I used the term suicidal ideation earlier. What is that? Suicidal ideation is when a person imagines killing himself. Anyone thinking about suicide is at risk. Whether or not a plan has been formed, this person needs our help. October 8th is National Depression Screening Day, where thousands of organizations across the country will be offering free depression screenings. You can visit helpyourselfhelpothers.org to find a place near you.
About 16 million people live with depression in any given year. That is a lot of people and as Muslims living in the U.S., those numbers include us.
I know we all know that suicide is expressly forbidden in nearly every religion, including Islam. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen or that people don’t think about it. Nor does that mean we are to avoid talking about it or even judge others for having these thoughts. Faith does not set guidelines for us to judge others; rather, it keeps us from pain. A completed suicide means a loss of a life that could have contributed to this world and to a lifetime of pain for those left behind. We can help prevent this pain.
Has someone ever expressed a desire to hurt themselves to you? It was uncomfortable, wasn’t it? I’m sure, though, that you worked through your discomfort to help them. Sometimes it isn’t so clear. The following are signs that we should be aware of:
- Talking about hurting oneself
- Searching for items to do so
- Talking about having no reason to live
- Giving possessions away
- Extreme mood swings
- Talking about feeling trapped
If you are concerned about someone, talk to them. Don’t dismiss what they are saying or try to cheer them up – you may be trying to help but what is happening instead is they may feel worse, leading to the individual thinking, “Gosh if life is so great and I still feel so bad then I must be a terrible person.” Hear them out; try to get an idea of how thoroughly they have thought about it. Then make sure they get help. Stay with them as they call and speak with a professional. Stay with them as they recover. It seems uncomfortable to insert ourselves into someone else’s life but in this case it is okay. It is more than okay, it is necessary. Follow up with them, help them. You may be the bridge between life and this person.
As communities that typically stick together and prefer the ties of kinship, we are lacking when it comes to addressing mental health issues. Depression can happen to anyone. Suicidal thoughts can occur for anyone. We do no one a service if we ignore or sweep it under the rug. There is no shame in asking for help and there is certainly no shame in giving help. Look out for the signs listed above and connect these individuals with the help they need. Sure, at times you may feel like you’re making a ‘mountain of a molehill’ but I would rather see mountains and help, than see the molehills lead to regret and loss. Life is precious and sometimes some of us may need help seeing that. Won’t you be that help?
If you or someone you know is having thoughts of hurting themselves, please reach out to speak with someone. Call 1-800-273-TALK. It is ok to ask for help.
American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical
manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.
National Institute of Mental Health. http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/prevalence/major-depression-among-adults.shtml