Updated: Jan 31
What is depression really about? Is it just a chemical imbalance in your brain or is it environmental? Or could it be something more? In this month's episode on the MFM podcast, I sat down with my friend Maleeha Mohsen to discuss what affect personal connections have on depression. This concept is based on Johann Hari's book "Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression - and the Unexpected Solutions." We also discussed how salah can play a key role in a Muslim's mental health.
My Conversation Summary with Maleeha Mohsen on Episode 29 of the Mentally Fit Muslims Podcast
Saba: The first time I really connected with you was through an email you sent and I just felt like I got a hug from you, even though we were so far away. That email meant so much and I printed it out. That message set the path for our relationship.
Yes. I said "Oh, I'm just gonna send her an email, because I think she probably needs this."And I needed to write it too.
What I like about you is you're very real. In a previous episode, we talked about toxic positivity, where you just pretend everything's okay. But I find with you, you acknowledge the real tough challenges. You say it like it is. And then you slowly slowly, you know, you support the person. So, do you want to share your experience with depression?
I was in denial. My husband kept on saying “you're depressed”. And I said, there is no way I'm depressed. You know, that's such a weak person thing to do. I'm a strong person, there is no way I am depressed. I'm just higher. And, my depression did take like a physical aspect to it. I was always sleeping. I was constantly tired. And I thought, oh, okay, it's just a hormonal imbalance. So, it took a long time for me to actually acknowledge to myself that no, there is something definitely wrong with my mind here. And I needed help. So I think when I wrote that letter to you, I think I was getting to that stage of trying to confirm to myself that Oh, yes, Maleeha, you must, you probably have depression here. And then you should get some kind of help. Some kind of help right there. Yeah. That's what I remember.
One Treatment for Depression: Go Help Someone Else
And that kind of brings me to "Lost Connections" by Johann Hari. He talks about how there are seven causes of depression. For example, the lost connections to your family, friends and community and to intrinsic values of love or respect. One of the solutions he says is to go help somebody. It'll take you out of your depression a little bit.
7 Causes of Depression by Johann Hari
Lost connections to the follow can be causes of depression along with brain changes
Lost connections to family, friends and community
Loss of intrinsic values such as love
Disconnection from childhood
Loss of connection to meaningful work
Loss of connection with nature.
Loss of connection to status and respect
Loss of faith
Losing Family Support Meant Losing Mental Health
I had to actually fight with my family to get married. I have this huge family and all of a sudden, I kind of lost that. And I remember, studying a lot in university so I didn't go out and interact with friends as much. Also, my daughter was due in February and none of my professors would actually give me any time off.
After my daughter was born, my husband got into med school. So he was busy and I lived so far away from everywhere else and he would take the car to go to school. So I'd be stuck at home. I lost all kinds of connections to everybody. I thought I was a strong person but depression has nothing to do with strength. It's just the situation itself and then you're reacting to it.
Losing Meaningful Work
Then there's the thing about meaningful work for me. I love being a mother. I just don't want to be a stay at home mom, but my situation worked out in that way that's the only thing I have done so far. And to me that that feels meaningless not that raising my children is meaningless. That's not the only thing I want to do.
You don't look depressed so has something changed? You're still far away from your family. Your husband is still working a lot. Your kids are still home. Have you accepted your situation?
I have accepted my situation. I think that sounds depressing but I'm thinking through that acceptance. I'm at the spot that I don't want to be in but because I've accepted it, I've you stopped fighting it. It's not about giving up on your dreams. It's just that you've been fighting against the tide so much, against the current so much.
Therapy for Depression
When did you start therapy? And how has that helped?
I started maybe 10 years ago. I couldn't always find the right therapist. You need to have a connection with them. I had two very good ones. I went to therapy for a solution and nobody was giving me anything. But then one I found and she took four sessions and said “Oh, I see what your problem is." And then she would give me homework.
Improving Mental Health Through Friendship
I found a friend near me whose life is basically paralleling mine. So it's that social connection with this friend who totally understands what I'm going through. We just met accidentally. She's from the other side of the world and somehow she ended up being in this tiny town in Alberta.
We just met outside one day. We have kids the same age and we just connected. She's my long lost twin. And it didn't take very long for us to become very close. Also we were in a small city, so not very Muslims are around. So you try to make connections with people who are like you.
Some people have a hard time finding that support, especially if they don't have it in their family. And maybe they don't want to open up to even with their friends. What should that person do?
Salah is Key to a Muslim's Mental Health
I would tell them to continue praying because one of the things that happens to me when I'm depressed is that I stop praying. That's one of my signs. If you are making dua, it might be that the therapist you get is the answer to your dua. The friend that I found in the street might be my the answer to my dua.
When somebody says, "You're depressed, because you're not praying," they're attributing the depression to your lack of faith, your lack of praying. The helpful view is that, yes, I'm depressed. And I'm going to turn to Allah for help. Just because I'm depressed doesn't mean I stop talking to him.
Just do the prayer in whatever way you can. It doesn't mean you will have to sit, but just don't let go of that habit. So it seems like Allah is adding meaning to your life. Alhamdulillah you've stuck to your values, and looks like that has really helped you.
This blog post is based on Episode 29 of the Mentally Fit Muslims Podcast. Listen to the full episode here.