A Silent Fight: Treating Depressed Women in Islamic Countries

Millions of women silently suffer from depression around the globe. Depression is discussed at great length in Western portions of the world – with healthcare professionals, counsellors, and educators becoming more aware of the causes, symptoms, and treatment options available.

Sadly, many women that live oppressed under religious laws and Islamic governments around the world continue to hide their despair in isolation. There are many causes of depression. Depression is a common illness, affecting countless people, regardless of social, economic, or educational backgrounds. However, getting help has become easier due to research, improved health care, and advocacy groups.

Muslim women living under Islamic governments have unique challenges, since they do not have the same access to treatment due to religious, financial, and mobility limitations. With the rise of Sharia law, political Islam and the increased campaign to impose Sharia law on its people, women are at particular risk for violence and oppression, which subsequently lead to depression.

Women and Sharia Law

Many researchers are in agreement that it is difficult to provide a true estimate of the rates of depression. The stigma of depression in Islamic-majority countries prevent accurate reporting of depression. War and regional conflicts – such as the unrest in Syria – continue to hinder medical professionals from correctly assessing, diagnosing, and treating depression and other depressive disorders.

Muslim women are more susceptible to depression due to their social standing within their communities. In some countries that are controlled by Sharia law, women are not allowed to drive, leave their home without a male guardian, and have restricted access to education and employment opportunities – as a result of which, they continue to battle gender stereotypes at every step.

Without permission to improve their plight or the freedom to explore positive self-expression, Muslim women often find themselves trapped within their homes without the resources to handle their mental health. Telling women they do not have a choice can take away the joy and fulfilment they may otherwise derive from daily activities, leading to more instances of oppression.

Oppression manifests itself in many ways.

The definition of oppression is “the exercise of authority or power in a burdensome, cruel, or unjust manner.” More recently, attempts have been made to expand this general view of oppression.

When some people think of oppression, they associate it with those that are captured or tormented at the hands of the dominant party. Those that subscribe to a set of rules such as Sharia law, that subjugates women are seen as willing participants in an oppressive practice.

It is important to understand the varying effects of oppression, including its links with depression. Examples of oppression include: being consistently and continuously bullied, suppressed, sexually, physically and emotionally abused by those in self-imposed leadership or authority. Additionally, oppressed individuals are routinely the victims of injustice and lack adequate access to basic resources and enrichment to purposely keep them dependent and lacking. Based on the examples of oppression, women are consistently victims of systemic oppression due to the Sharia culture and government.

The Treatment of Depressed Muslim Women

Treating depressed Muslim women can be extremely difficult. For starters, it is often taboo for women to admit that they are depressed or struggling with their social standing. Women who are outspoken about the standards of Islamic culture and negative views regarding women are treated harshly. This phenomenon could be due to the indoctrination that occurs from childhood about the religious and social roles each gender must carry out. When people are raised in an atmosphere or culture that practices oppressive tactics against another (or the same) group of people, that generation is more likely to view the negative treatment as normal. This continues the vicious cycle of oppression.

Unfortunately, those who are subject to oppression may not be aware of their oppression. The psychology of oppression is a relatively new concept that is being studied, but the effects of oppression are clear. People who are routinely oppressed, particularly due to religious and cultural reasons, suffer from depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other serious mental health issues.

While each society must overcome its share of marginalising women, attention must be directed toward the routine mistreatment of women in Islamic regions of the world. Purposely oppressing women and withholding access to mental health services is a recipe to keep the untold stories of depression flourishing.

(Dr Deeba Abedi is an Indian-American writer countering extremism as a Muslim crusader. She tweets @drdeebabedi)

(This is a personal blog and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)