By Abdul Moiz
Many are unaware of the challenges and threats, both psychological and physical, that depression and mental illness poses to humankind in the contemporary modern world. Since the modern world is a heterogenous mix of illiterate, half-literate and literate people, mental illness and depression is still considered a taboo, something that is based on myths and fallacies and has no robust fundamental basis, and is not talked about much in different parts of the world. Like in almost every aspect of life the West has always dominated the East and the South, it is again making progressive headway in terms of its understanding of mental illness, its history, causes, symptoms, and its cure and the repercussions of non-treatment.
With a little hindsight, one gets to know that the term now known as “Clinical depression”, “Major depression”, or “Simply depression” and commonly referred to as “Major Depressive Disorder” by many health care professionals, has a long history which dates back to the ancient Greeks who first coined the term “Melancholia” for the same. Melancholia was a far broader concept than today’s depression in which prominence was given to a clustering of the symptoms of sadness, dejection, and despondency, and often fear, anger, delusions and obsessions were included.
According to the American Psychiatric Association, “Depression (major depressive disorder) is a common and serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think and how you act. It causes feelings of sadness and/or a loss of interest in activities once enjoyed and can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems that can decrease a person’s ability to function at work and at home.”
Symptoms such as feeling sad or having a depressed mood, loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed, changes in appetite — weight loss or gain unrelated to dieting, trouble sleeping or sleeping too much, loss of energy or increased fatigue, Increase in purposeless physical activity (e.g. hand-wringing or pacing) or slowed movements and speech (actions observable by others), feeling worthless or guilty, difficulty thinking, concentrating or making decisions, thoughts of death or suicide, characterize Depression or Major Depressive Disorder.
Depression is the leading global disability, and unipolar (as opposed to bipolar) depression is the 10th leading cause of early death, it calculates. The link between suicide, the second leading cause of death for young people aged 15-29, and depression is clear, and around the world two people kill themselves every minute. At any one time it is estimated that more than 300 million people have depression – about 4% of the world’s population when the figures were published by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2015. Women are more likely to be depressed than men.
But what is the root cause of the roadmap to depression?
Many would describe unhealthy diet, unhealthy life-style, lack of good sleep, increased mental workload, increased use of internet and social media, radiations from cell phones, environment, social circumstances, state of social and filial relations, loss of a loved one, grief etc. as few of the many causes that might trigger depression. But a little glance in history might awaken us to the actual and underlying root cause of it.
The western world has always been ahead of the latter half of the world in terms of advancements. Progressing and finding ways for a purpose and meaning to this world, the Western world has moved from religion to philosophy to science to psychology to technology and finally stagnated at Nihilism (the belief that life is meaningless.). After having reached the center of experiencing an existential crisis, the West is now divided on its meaning of a purposeful existence because of the absence of any general purpose towards which all would strive. While some spend their lives finding purpose in the exploration of this universe and toiling towards technological advancements, some are ruthlessly indulged in a hedonistic existence and live for the fun of it, without any regard for the gift that has been conferred upon them, “Life”.
The late English poet, essayist and social critic Mathew Arnold in his great philosophical piece “Dover Beach” laments the loss of true Christian faith (symbolized for religion in general) in England (which is symbolized as the world) during the mid-1800s and the entrapment of the minds of the public by science. The poet describes the condition of the world after the beginning of the Industrial revolution in the 18th C, such that since the time religion receded from the world and science enraptured the minds of the people, the true meaning of life was lost. Same is the case for the world in this contemporary era. Religion is and has always been seen as a pole star that guides people towards a life that is governed by disciplinary principles and a certain code that must be adhered to while providing an existential purpose that serves right to a man’s energies and passions, desires and whims, goals and targets, happiness and contentment etc. Without the disciplinary code of religion, man is deemed a purposeless bull, aiming in air with no target in mind. Life seems dull and drab, and all is seen going down a darkened whirl pool that sucks in all the despairs of the world.
Since the world draws inspiration from the west as it has always been at the forefront of advancements and aggressive progressiveness, the world doesn’t realize the fact that in its obsession with the west, it not only benefits from the best part of it but also damages itself from the worst parts of it too. True that what most of the world now possesses would never have been possible if not for the lust for advancements in the western world, but the fact that the west craves materialism and knows no contentment other than material contentment should never be denied. The cases of famous Hollywood stars who are looked up to by the public as the perfect and ideal men and women because they are in possession of all the material wealth and fame that would bring happiness and contentment are seen suiciding out of any mental illness such as depression or bipolar disorder. Material possessions and fame serve no greater purpose than granting a temporary high, a feeling of temporal ecstasy that diminishes with time. What drives man is the desire for a purpose or a goal towards which he would toil till death to achieve because purpose is what gives life meaning.
When a man knows not the purpose and meaning of his existence, he deems himself and all in his surroundings useless, ready to be disintegrated in the course of time. Man knows not everything and thus is always pursuing answers. Since nothing (besides religion) caters to every aspect and every problem of man, a void begins to form inside that would be filled only through a certain and definitive answer. With time, this void grows bigger and bigger and aggravates man to his marrow. Religion, fortunately, is what serves this purpose of fulfilling this void besides granting meaning to life. Religion is divine and thus has answers and guidance for man in every aspect of his life. Not just Islam, every religion of the world serves this purpose. Religion gives a divine purpose to its adherents and binds all its adherents together in a common or mutual pursuance of this purpose. Why is a common pursuance necessary? Because it gives a sense of motivational inspiration that instigates the desire to go on without paying heed to hindrance.
Since the time the world has ignored religion and moved on to finding its purpose in things of its own making, people have suffered greatly and due to the absence of any pole star for guidance, existence seems meaningless and thus, depression or existential crisis. It is precisely evident in the case of the West and the East. The East though becoming weak in its adherence to religion is still clinging on to it due to which mental disorders are comparatively lesser in number than the most. Even in Southern Asia and in Pakistan, the followers of the west who hide themselves under the pseudonym of “Liberals” are so hooked up to western culture and ideals of happiness that they forget their true place in this world and dwell as meaningless bubbles with a rainbow colored outer shell but with a depleted core that craves for inner peace and contentment. This is the reason that people with relatively more wealth and material gains are seen having mental health issues more.
The solution it seems is in abiding by our code of life that is based on our religion and that guides us in every aspect of our lives. Islam is a religion, a culture and a way of life that’s so easy, modern and universal that if understood, would bring us eternal bliss in our lives.