Raising Our Mental Health Awareness During Ramadan
If you didn’t already know, Ramadan is the holiest month of the Islamic calendar in which over 1 billion muslims will be fasting from sunrise to sunset all over the world. It is an event respected and cherished by muslims everywhere despite the mental and physical tests it puts us through. Ramadan is not just about the fasting- it is widely understood to be a month of spiritual reflection and rejuvenation and this can mean many different things to those in the community. For most, It teaches us discipline and gratitude while also reminding us to be humble and give to those in need. My personal favourite aspect of this month is that Ramadan teaches us the importance of support and community. It is a time for sharing important moments like prayer, iftar (evening meal) and suhoor (morning meal) with your family, friends and loved ones.
During Ramadan, the test in resisting temptation is not only limited to food and drink, but it also extends to resisting unhealthy habits and ‘bad’ behaviour. As our prayers become more intimate, so does our relationship with the people and the world around us. Try kindly interacting with London commuters on the underground after fasting for 15 hours- that’s a TEST. So in order to replace these ‘bad’ habits we are pushed to practice good ones- at least until the sun sets. While acts of worship are multifaceted during this time, not everyone can practice the act of fasting during Ramadan. Exemptions are commonly known to apply to the elderly, pregnant women, young children, people who are ill, travelling and so on. But a group of people that have only recently been recognised is those who are dealing with their mental health.
“Health has physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual components. Ramadan boosts a Muslim’s spiritual health, but what if fasting adversely affects the physical or mental health?”
It just so happens that this year Mental Health Awareness Month coincides with Ramadan, which is a great opportunity for the community to acknowledge the struggles many muslims face all over the world. By having an open and honest dialogue, inside and outside the mosque, our community can navigate ways we can support them during this spiritually (and physically) difficult and potentially triggering month, which we can hopefully continue to provide all year round.
(Art by @recipesforselflove)
While eating disorders are one of the biggest issues to tackle this month, it can also be challenging for many of those who deal with disorders such as anxiety and depression where medication is required to be taken during fasting hours. However, it is also the case that triggers are not directly linked to eating and drinking and so the pressure of not being able to fulfill every aspect of Ramadan can feel isolating. For practicing muslims, fasting is important. Religion is important. But mental health is just as important and by alleviating the pressure and cultural stigma behind mental health and religious performance, we will be able to show our fellow brothers and sisters how to integrate all of these in the most positive way.
A good example is reaching out to health professionals and leaders within the communities to work together to address the issues people may face during Ramadan so everyone can be made aware that it is a lot more prevalent than it may seem. By acknowledging these struggles, we can help normalise the discourse around mental health awareness by embracing that it is not just up to the individual to deal with it, but it is our collective effort to create a culture of care and support so people know that they should practice their faith within their absolute full capability without the guilt of not being able to take part in certain things like fasting. If religious leaders are able to have a positive and accepting attitude toward mental illness, that goes a long way in the community.
But we cannot just depend on imams and doctors to start this discourse, it should begin within our personal spaces. Reaching out to family and friends is the easiest way to get this started. If you notice someone close to you is struggling, acknowledge their efforts, figure out what is the best way they can still take part in our typical Ramadan traditions or even come up with a plan of action with them to help optimise the month in the best way that they can. For instance, invite them over for your iftars, attend prayers together or motivate each other to learn something new.
By extending this help to those around you can really change the way they interact with Ramadan for as long as they practice it. I had one Ramadan where I experienced the worst depression of my life. At the time I was unemployed and had no motivation to get out of bed- not drinking or eating really prevented me from doing simple things like walking to the bathroom or kitchen let alone anywhere outside of the house. Once I hit my absolute lowest, I finally told my parents I was finding Ramadan significantly harder than normal and felt like my mental health was drastically slipping. They advised me to take a day or two off from fasting to get my priorities back on track and this simple act of self-care changed the game for me. Taking a step back and addressing what I needed in order to take part in Ramadan successfully with the support of the people who loved me allowed me to preserve my mental health in a way that was best for me. So let others know that they do not have to compromise their mental health for their religious health, and make sure you remind yourself of this too.
Below are some organisations working hard to promote Mental Health Awareness and outreach within Muslim Communities in the UK:
Article by Social Media & Content Manager Yaz Omran