Life Plan for Muslims Living with Mental Illness
To illustrate how a person living with mental illness in a Muslim community (or any marginalized area) can safely and happily share their life with others
Who Should Make a Life Plan
Anyone who wants to share their lives with loved ones and feels comfortable adding them to their support team. A person who has a mental health diagnosis and wants to inform people how to address any concerns or questions about their health and safety, should an emergency arise (how to get the individual to their doctor and such). Someone who feels comfortable sharing emergency contacts and wants to teach others about their mental illness.
Who Should Be Involved
The individual who has been diagnosed should make this plan with their diagnosing psychiatrist. That way, the patient and doctor can discuss the person’s needs as far as their physical environment, support system, transportation, religious and psychosocial development, educational counseling, financial needs and so forth. Once developed, the person may share this plan with whom they wish. But as it is now part of their formal diagnosis and medical record, it cannot be altered or commented on by a layperson. And should not be tampered with. The purpose of the life plan is to augment the support system and make their job of helping the patient heal easier and more cohesive. It also helps the patient communicate with their doctor during check ups and any emergency visits.
When to Communicate Needs (Patient)
When the person notices their quality of living standards are reducing to the degree that they cannot handle day to day tasks and it is interfering with their quality of life. As an example, if a person isn’t able to attend to daily hygiene needs and if this is harming their standard of living, they may want to reach out and tell a friend they are in need of extra attention. Note: this isn’t cause for alarm right away or a call for action. Their prescribing doctor is the only one who can diagnose any new symptoms and understand the situation. Communication helps those around the person know that things are happening and to be more empathetic at this time. For the Muslim friend or neighbor, this is a great time to make dua and ask for relief of hardships for the person, nothing more. They must refrain from offering unsolicited advice, piling on extra household chores, parental duties, etc, and make a concerted effort not to add to the person’s overall hardships. In general, stress and pressure exacerbate mental health conditions and make recovery much harder. Stress also makes living conditions more tense. A person may feel shy to tell their friends and family members this and can ask for help with communication from a physician or social worker.
Always remember, reliving a sick person’s difficulties can bring many blessings inshaAllah.
It was narrated from Abu Hurairah:
“The Messenger of Allah said: ‘Whoever relieves a Muslim of some worldly distress, Allah will relieve him of some of the distress of the Day of Resurrection, and whoever conceals (the faults of) a Muslim, Allah will conceal him (his faults) in this world and the Day of Resurrection. And whoever relives the burden from a destitute person, Allah will relieve him in this world and the next. Allah will help His slave so long as His slave helps his brother. Whoever follows a path in pursuit of knowledge, Allah will make easy fro him a path to paradise. No people gather in one of the houses of Allah, reciting the Book of Allah and teaching it to one another, but the angels will surround them, tranquility will descend upon them, mercy will envelop them and Allah will mention them to those who are with Him. And whoever is hindered because of his bad deeds, his lineage will be of no avail to him.'”
When to Communicate Concerns (Support team/living partners or roommates)
If you are living with a mentally ill person or know someone with a diagnosis and become concerned about their symptoms, you may not know how to approach the topic. First, as long as the person has a regular doctor and/or therapist in their life, know that you are in no way responsible for their medical care. Your empathy can be best used by following Quran and Sunnah and not panicking. If you notice a change and are worried for someone’s safety, don’t be afraid to talk about things directly. Asking about suicide and suicidal thoughts does not induce suicidal behaviors or ideations.
An ice breaker may be “hey, I notice you’ve been withdrawn lately, do you mind if we talk?” or “Can we talk later? I’m worried about you. Are you alright? You seem upset. Would you like to talk?” “Is there anything you’d like to discuss? How can I make things easier for you?” “I really don’t know what to say but I want you to know I’m here for you and I support you.” “Please tell me how you’d like me to talk to you about your mental health symptoms. I don’t want to seem dismissive when I don’t know what to say.”
As someone’s friend, neighbor, roommate or family member, you may not talk about their mental illness or diagnosis with others. Even if the person discloses their diagnosis publicly. They are allowed to decide what they want to publicize however gossip rules still apply and it is best to leave sensitive subjects to the professionals. If you overhear someone crying on the phone, laughing with fiends late at night, talking about their inpatient experiences, describing uncomfortable symptoms, talking about their most and least favorite physicians or simply having an episode that a doctor has to handle, please let the professionals do their job and do not violate their personal space. Often times, this is how disagreements happen and feelings get hurt because lines are crossed that need not be. The saying that “too many cooks spoil the pot” applies to this situation. Please use best practices and do not violate someone’s privacy, which in turn will keep everyone safe.
Many Muslims with mental health issues are visible online. Some are mental health advocates as well. If you see someone who has chosen to be an advocate for mental health online and they have specified their particular area of interest, please reach out to them directly and make contact. Get to know them. Get a business card. Give them the respect that you give other advocates and activists. DM them and give them the Islamic Greetings as you would any other Muslim advocate. Offer direct advice and sincere Islamic naseehah when they make a mistake, from the Quran and the Sunnah. With love and sincerity. If you have questions about where they’ve studied, ask them kindly, and not to poke holes in their life and ruin their mental health even further. Help them heal Islamically and spiritually and don’t step over their doctors who have worked hard to put their minds back together. With this, Insha’Allah, the community can come together and learn much more about the topic of mental health and those of us living with mental illness can feel safe and accepted.