|Mr K came into my surgery today. He is an infrequent visitor. Unusually, he was not particularly well dressed or kempt. He spoke in hushed tones and looked downwards. His wife, he told me, had made the appointment for him. Initially he told me that he had some vague pains, which I could not really find a physical cause for. He then said that he felt tired for months and according to him, this was the main problem.
I asked him a few questions. I struggled to get answers.
Disenchanted with his life, he felt that his future was bleak. He was tired, constipated, had constant headaches and was mentally slow. He certainly said that things that he used to enjoy were not as fun anymore and really he could not be bothered. He easily became tearful and angry with people and that was making him feel very guilty. He considered himself worthless. Sometimes he would wake in the early hours of the morning, after a disturbed night's sleep, and wonder if it was worth getting out of bed at all
.and more worryingly whether it was worth living. I questioned him about this and he said that he did not really want to commit suicide. I was reassured, but was glad that I had asked.
Mr K has an illness that many of us in the Muslim community ignore or deny exists: Depression. This is an illness, like diabetes or pneumonia, many of the key symptoms of which, have been described above. Not everybody will have all of these symptoms, but most will have some of them. The tragedy is that although at least one in five of us will suffer from depression in our lifetime, the failure to seek treatment can lead to misery and situations where people drop out of education or work, often prematurely curtailing a host of opportunities. In extreme cases it leads to people taking their own lives.
The bigger tragedy by far however, is that Depression is a readily treatable condition, most cases will only require a few months of treatment with antidepressant medication, counselling or both. Unfortunately, antidepressants have received adverse publicity recently but the majority of them are not addictive. Ideally a course of treatment should continue up to 4-6 months after symptoms begin to subside. In fact most of the problems occur because people stop treatment far too early. A good GP will continue to monitor progress throughout this period of time at regular intervals. Your GP may refer you to a counsellor, who will be appropriately trained and accredited. Counselling administered by a trained professional can be extremely effective, particularly in cases of mild to moderate depression. Islamic counselling and support organisations are now emerging, which may also be useful as an adjunct to treatment.
Finally, never forget the support of family, friends and of course Allah (God).
Depression strikes the Muslim community and if you or a relative are suffering from the symptoms that I have described, seek help from your GP. Don't delay seeking advice as Depression is an important illness that as Muslims we far too often choose to ignore.