Islam & Postpartum Depression

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postpartum depressionWhat does Islam have to say about postpartum depression?

I found myself asking that question when I read a heartbreaking comment from Amina, a Muslim mother who had postpartum depression, on a piece I had written about postpartum depression and different religious faiths.

I’m Muslim and had postpartum two years ago with my 4th child. Never had it before then. I remember when I told the Sheik’s(kinda like pastor’s) wife that I needed help. They made me feel so small, like I wasn’t a practicing Muslim, and said stuff like “You don’t need those pills.” or “They are just going to make things worse.” or “It’s all in your head. You just need to pray more, pray harder”. It was like saying you’re not a believer in God because you have this issue. I was devastated. I went looking for support and was dragged down even more. I even bought a book from their library and in the book it blamed “the devil or spirits ” and insisted I needed to pray more, or pray certain prayers. Thing was I prayed and prayed and prayed til I could barely move or speak. Did everything I was told to and it didn’t help at all. I never went back to that mosque after that day. It felt like they made things worse on me. I felt like I was being told I’m not a “real” Muslim or a true “believer” or I was simply “weak”.

This happens so often. Women made to feel horrible by people in their religious communities. This is something I cannot abide. Postpartum depression or anxiety (or antenatal depression or anxiety) are not moral failings. Period.

I reached out to my buddy HK to see if she was aware of what the Islamic position on PPD is, and she, being the awesome person she is, found the following for me from Ask The Scholar. It’s not specifically about postpartum depression, but it does provide an Islamic perspective on mental health issues:

Question: What does Islam say about mental disorders/illnesses? Is it due to the effect of jinn (demons) or Satan? What is the Islamic treatment for mental disorders?

Answer: It is indeed very unfortunate that some Muslims today cling to folklore that was not even accepted by those Muslims who came before us.

Even a casual glance at Islamic history reveals that, while much of Europe in the Medieval Period viewed mental illness as demon-related, Muslim scholars of the time, including Ibn Sina (known in the West as Avicenna – the founder of Modern Medicine), rejected such notions and viewed mental disorders as conditions that were physiologically based.

This kind of forward thinking about mental health by early Muslim scholars is also what led to the creation of the first psychiatric ward in Baghdad, Iraq by al Razi (one of the greatest physicians Islam has ever produced and known in the West as Rhazes). Based on the view that mental disorders were medical conditions, patients in these wards were treated not only humanely and compassionately but also using psychotherapy and drug treatments.

All this should be ample proof that in Islam, mental disorders are considered as illnesses that warrant medical attention and treatment, including medication, if prescribed.

In fact, taking medication and treating ourselves via experts is an important Islamic teaching. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), is reported to have said, “Treat yourself through medications, for God has sent down a cure even as He has sent down the disease.”

All this being said, one should supplement treatment for all illnesses with prayers asking for God’s mercy, cure and healing.

I welcome other perspectives, as I am not a Muslim myself. I have to tell you, though, that I think this persective will remain my favorite. To me, it is beautifully supportive and healing. ;-)

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About Katherine Stone

is the founder & editor of Postpartum Progress. She was named one of the ten most influential mom bloggers of 2011, a WebMD Health Hero and one of the top 25 parent bloggers using social media for social good. She also writes the Fierce Blog, and a parenting column for Disney's Babble.com.

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Comments

  1. As a Muslim myself, I think that there is in general a poor understanding of emotional states such as post partum depression. In part, this may come from the poor understanding of imams themselves who have little familiarity with issues in pregnancy, but also due to confusion, fear, and shame surrounding problems with mental health. Classically, as you mentioned, there are wonderful resources in Islamic healing understandings, techniques and a variety of herbal approaches. We have many of these practitioners today, although traditional healers are more available in the majority Muslim world as opposed to the West.
    I'm a Muslim doula (and anthropologist) and one of my primary goals is to provide education and alternative perspectives in my community. I'd like Muslim women to have access to excellent care, including pre and postpartum practical and emotional support, and an awareness of both the potentially amazing and potentially painful aspects of birth. As for the latter, how to mitigate the pain through knowledge is key.
    Thanks for writing about this topic, I'd love to see it explored in more depth!

  2. Katherine Stone/Post says:

    Thank you for your comment. I welcome more input and ideas about how to explore this in more depth. I'm not quite sure how to do that myself, of course, as I am not a Muslim. Let me know if you have more to share on this!!
    — Katherine

  3. Manal Khalife says:

    I'm a muslim mom, too, who has suffered from postpartum depression. For myself, I didn't turn to the community, because I knew that this idea existed among some people, that if you are depressed, you were lacking faith. To the extent that I believed it myself. That if I just prayed more, my depression would be lifted.
    There really is a stigma against mental illness among the older generation that the younger generation are having to fight against.
    I had PPD 3 times, and, although for myself I didn't use medication, I did turn to Eastern medicine (including Islamic medicine) to heal from PPD. There is a rich tradition of health and healing in Islamic history, and to deny that is ridiculous. Even the Prophets (peace be upon them) sought healing when they were ill.
    Part of my healing process, as it is for many, is to reach out and help and teach others as well. For myself, I am a Counsellor and Emotional Freedom Coach that works with mothers of young children. I have a special interest in Postpartum Depression, naturally, since I've been there before.
    While it's not geared only to a specific group of women, it does speak about faith and community support and the uphill battle women-of-faith (all faiths) have to go through at times.
    Thank you for sharing this article.

  4. I think in this discussion it is important to note that the Islamic perspective to mental illness is not one that is synonymous or relies on or espouses alternative approaches to treating mental health issues. And I fear that this is some are taking from this discussion.
    The drugs that were used by early Muslim physicians treating mental illness were opiates, which are mind altering agents. These can be seen as, and in fact are, the precursor to current conventional drugs on the market to treat mental health issues, including antidepressants & anti-psychotic meds.
    Hoping that this adds some more perspective on this topic.
    Thanks Katherine for posting on this topic, and the too kind words:)

  5. Hope mine didn't come across that way. That was just the way *I* chose to deal with PPD, but that was a personal choice, not something that I felt was necessary due to my religious beliefs. Just wanted to clarify.
    The most important thing is awareness and seeking help!

  6. agreed!

  7. Katherine. Thank you so much for looking into this in such a respectful and well spoken manner. I really enjoyed to read it ;)

  8. I guess at this time mother should need to be with the one whom she trust the most. because that person will seriously start caring and will eventually solve your problems.

  9. Dear Ms. Stone,

    Thank you for this post. As a PhD student in Clinical Psychology and a Muslim, trying to educate the community about this has been a trying ordeal. I have a strong interest in working with postpartum depression in Muslim women and getting clinical experience by working in an intensive outpatient program focusing on Postpartum Mood Disorders.

    I am working to put together a presentation on how to address issues of postpartum mood disorders on Muslim women. If anyone has any suggestions, please do share. I will most definitely share my findings with you once I gather all my data.

    It was quite a pleasure to read.