An old friend called melancholy came to visit me this week. I purposely use this old-fashioned word for what many of you will know as depression because it feels like an easier label which sits almost romantically with me, unlike ‘mental health problem’ which feels ominous and conjures up images of the movie One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. Even though referring to mental health issues is more acceptable these days, thanks to it being in the spotlight through many celebrities opening up about their struggles with anxiety, depression and mental health issues, I still squirm when I consider that I am on the same team.
As I have been working remotely, it has been easier to hide my illness. My email silence could easily be construed as being busy, when in fact I felt a shrivelled version of myself and about as useful as a chocolate teapot. As with other sufferers when I am like ‘this’, having to deal with a minor mishap as inconsequential as dropping a bag of pasta on the floor can seem overwhelming. So, I dragged myself through the days willing myself to get better and as usual, I did.
I am fortunate that my bouts of mental illness, there I used the phrase, tend to be short and not as severe as others undergo. It can present as anxiety, stress, depression and any of the other symptoms which make up the family called ‘mental health’. I am also lucky that I am my own boss so I can take a sick day or two without having to justify my absence to anyone. Even so, I would struggle to phone the office and say ‘I am not coping’, I am ‘not quite myself’ or ‘I can’t drive to work because I think that every car on the road is heading straight towards me and I am going to have an accident’.
Perhaps I could say I feel drained of life, have suicidal thoughts and feel like a worthless piece of crap, but like most it’s easier to say I have ‘flu. I am not owning any of that list, by the way, but that is what it can be like as a sufferer. And they will tell you they would much rather have to own up to an intense bout of bronchitis, influenzas, tonsillitis and even cancer.
Many people cannot understand depression as an illness. To Stephen Fry people have asked “How can someone so well off, well-known and successful have depression? ‘ Alistair Campbell in an article suggested changing the word “depression” to “cancer” or “diabetes” in order to reveal how, in its own way, sick a question it is, pun presumably intended. Many people feel that depression, anxiety and the like are rich people’s diseases, indoctrinated, no doubt, by years of Hollywood visuals of the bored, wealthy housewife on the psychiatrist’s couch discussing the week’s trivial trials and tribulations but how wrong this is. According to a report from the US department of Housing and Urban Development , around 26% of adults (yes, a quarter) who are homeless and in shelters, live with serious mental illness.
Compare and contrast with this statistic that in the workplace nearly 70% of bosses believe that stress, anxiety or depression are not valid excuses for taking time of work, even though a quarter (same proportion!) of employees will suffer from such problems at some point each year. A thousand managers, executives and company owners as well as a thousand employees were asked to take part in a survey carried out by AXA PPP Healthcare and the findings revealed that most workers are so worried about the stigma surrounding mental health that they would not tell their bosses the truth about why they were phoning in sick. And I get it completely. ‘Sarah has bronchitis’ …’Oh, that’s awful’ or ‘Sarah has mental illness ‘…’Er ,what?’ (note to self ‘We can’t be employing crazies’)
What makes mental health so difficult is the measurement of it. How do you describe a big black cloud over your head or a state of complete nervousness and fear? Or as someone once described it, feeling like you are drowning and gasping for breath but everyone around you is floating and breathing. And how do you measure it and anyway, why do you have to? In 2004 in the US 25.9 million persons lost an average of work pain due to back pain – that’s a total 186.7 million workdays lost that year – and you can’t measure that. And here’s the rub – that’s ok – mental health isn’t. I mean, come on you can relate to a bad back but not a bad mood!
But then again, I am not quite sure what needs to be done to de-stigmatize the illness. How can I ask others to change their mind when as a sufferer, I can’t even change mine? Deep down, I see it as a weakness, and no-one wants to admit to any such chink in their armour. Part of the confusion is that people think depression is sadness. People think depression is crying. People think depression is dressing in black. But people are wrong. Depression is the constant feeling of being numb. Being numb to emotions, being numb to life. You wake up in the morning just to go to bed again. When you’re depressed you don’t control your thoughts, your thoughts control you. As Stephen Fry explained, ‘it’s like having your own weather’ – think cold and damp in your corner, sunny and bright over there.
Certainly, the discussion and visibility about mental health has helped reduce the stigma around the topic yet mental health still currently receives less than 1 percent of global medical aid budgets. Domestic financing on prevention, promotion and treatment is similarly low. At present, every nation in the world is a 'developing' country when it comes to mental health. At the corporate level, companies need to acknowledge the reality by looking at some of the statistics on mental illness, appreciating how many man hours are lost due to it and coming out in the open about it. If I have a staff member who is prone to the blues, I accept that this.
I know that my personal understanding of the condition allows people to be open and honest about how they are feeling and not have to feel the shame and guilt which most sufferers often experience. I also know that if I allow the down time, as with myself I will make it up. To steal Stephen Fry’s personal weather metaphor, I make hay while the sun shines…when it’s pouring down, well then, rain stops play. â€¨
There is a saying in South Africa which avers that, “the White man has no kin: his kin is money”. The saying rings very true considering what Mayer Amschel Rothschild – he of the planet’s wealthiest family – once said, that, “Permit me to issue and control the money of a nation, and I care not who makes its laws!”
To the white man, the dollar sign looms so large in his optics that it was precisely the reason he appropriated Africa towards the end of the 19th century. The idea was to develop his continent, Europe, at the same rate as he underdeveloped Africa. Yet he was driven as much by economic imperatives as by sheer greed and prejudice.
A “pagan” King violates the Jewish Temple by setting up an idol in the Holy of Holies
Why, General Atiku, has the Judean setting (present-day Israel/Palestine) being the focus of so much geopolitical fervour over the ages when it is so resource-poor and is not even that agriculturally fecund being a virtual desert? Why have all the superpowers of history locked horns over it since days immemorial?
Just a ‘teaser’: we are all complaining of the ‘hot weather’ and ‘heat’ – but think about it, is this a reminder / warning from the Almighty that if we find this weather ‘hot’ can you imagine what the ‘fires of hell’ will be like should we get there?
Let us take this as a reminder and a ‘warning’ that we should change our lifestyles so that we follow in the path of righteousness and that which our Lord has directed. Failing this we will face the ‘fire of hell’ which undoubtedly will be many times worse than what we are facing on this earth.
Because as humans we have been favoured and bestowed with the power of intellect thus we enjoy greatness over other creation, coupled with a greater responsibility. Should that responsibility be misused then only on the Day of Reckoning will he know we will live in joy or in grief forever.
Since the dawn of creation Allah has sent down thousands of messengers, dozens of Divine Books but only ONE universal Message to humanity. That message of Divine Revelation and guidance is clear, unambiguous and eternal:
Allah is One, He is Master and Creator of the universe and of mankind and to Him is due all worship and obedience.
He has sent humanity Divine Revelation and guidance through His Messengers and His Books.
As death is inevitable in this world, equally is our resurrection in the Hereafter where everyone will face the consequences of their belief, unbelief and conduct in this temporal world.
This is the basic message, teaching and belief of every religion and without doubt we will all be called to account for our lives in this world and the manner in which we conducted ourselves, will be rewarded thereafter, the consequences of which may be joy forever for some or grief forever for others.
“It is He [Allah] Who created Death and Life, that He may try which of you is best in deeds and He is Exalted in Might, Oft-Forgiving.” (Qur’an: 67: 2)
In Islam the teachings of the Qur’an and the Last and Final Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) give clear guidance to the believer on how to live a life in this world so as to achieve success in the Hereafter.
‘If any do wish for the transitory things of this life, We readily grant them, such things as We will, to such persons as We will…… those who wish for the things of the Hereafter and strive for them with all due striving, and have faith, they are the ones whose striving is acceptable to Allah’ (Qur’an 17: 18-19)
In this world when a person sets out on a journey towards our Maker (Allah), he finds two paths, one leading to God and the other path to different destinations. A sincere and faithful believer will always try to find the right path and to live by the Divine injunctions, laws and code that his religion lays down. This requires us to live in harmony with the will of the Creator, in harmony with our own selves, and with the needs of the rest of creation. Unfortunately we have a tendency at times to toy with Divine Law and to surrender it to the laws of man and in the process to translate and interpret them into what fits in with our lifestyle of today.
If we are to use the intellect and the freedom of choice bestowed to us by God Almighty and follow His guidance, we will then live consciously in a state of “submission’ to Him, thus we will be virtuous. On the other hand when we ignore our Creators injunctions we work against the natural order, we tend to create discord, injustice and evil – and we become one without guidance. Therefore it is the intellect and the freedom of choice given to us that we are fully responsible for whatever we do.
However, it would be foolish for us to think of ourselves as totally independent and self-sufficient. If a person thinks in this manner, we become proud and. We will be inclined to become ungrateful for the bounties that we enjoy – the air that we breathe and the food we eat to sustain us, the eyes and ears we use to perceive the world around us, the tongue and lips we use to express our needs, wants and our inner most feelings and emotions. And being ungrateful, we will be inclined to forget or to reject the truth of the existence of God Almighty.
Unfortunately, people have varying views with regards to what the most important characteristic of a person is: for some it is the colour of his skin; for others, it is his economic situation – whether he is wealthy or poor; others think it is his , social or political standing, whether he is ruler or ruled; for others it is his social standing as an aristocrat, middle or working class; yet for some is his birth place and the language he speaks or the tribe he belongs to, etc..
‘Do men think that they will be left alone on saying “We believe”, and they will not be tested? We tested those before them, and Allah will certainly those who are true and those who are false’. (Quran 29: 2-3)
In Islam, these have no significance rather they are merely taken as signs of the creative power of God to enable people to recognise one another. The Almighty declares “O Mankind! Indeed we have created you as male and female, and have placed you in nations and tribes that you may have mutual recognition. However, the most honourable of you, in the sight of Allah is the one who is most God-conscious” (Qur’an: 49: 13)
Hence, the most important characteristic of a person is whether he is conscious of his Creator, believes in Him and through that consciousness submits to Him at all times and in all circumstances.
According to the Islamic view man is created by Allah in a pure state, free from sin. He also created us with the capacity or power to do both good and evil. He gave us the freedom to choose between doing good or evil. The good and evil therefore is connected with mankind’s freedom of choice and responsibility for their actions. “Good” may be whatever is pleasing to Allah and therefore beneficial to us. Whereas “Bad/evil” may be whatever incurs the anger of God and is therefore harmful to man.
‘By the soul, and the proportion and order given to it; And its enlightenment as to its wrong and its right – truly he that succeeds that purifies it, and he fails that corrupts it….. (Quran 91: 7-10)
Therefore one of mankind’s main tasks is to keep away from and ward off evil. This is why Taqwa, piety and God consciousness is repeatedly mentioned in the Qur’an as the most important quality a person should develop in this regard. This means one must be conscious at all times not to over step the limits set by God. It works as a defence against evil and temptation by keeping a person within the boundaries of piety.