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Giving back while shopping : Halal cosmetics and Black Lives Matter

Debt, Depression and Deen

 I have spent most of my adult life as a single mother.  I have spent most of my adult life as a broke single mother.  I like many people thought that investing in my education would automatically mean getting ahead financially in the world.  Well, I was wrong.  In fact, I made three times as much with my bachelor's degree and virtually no work experience than I did with my master's degree and years of teaching under my belt. So I am no stranger to debt.  Nor am I a stranger to the emotional ups and downs that come with debt and struggling.    

 In today's world, the average person lives with debt.  It is as if becoming an adult is synonymous with becoming indebted to a company.  From debt accrued during university to becoming a homeowner to purchasing our basic needs, debt is often a part of modern day living.  In fact, many of us are encouraged to get into debt as a way of establishing good credit.  Ironically, getting into debt may do us more harm than good.  Creating debt not only puts us at risk for serious long-term financial problems, but it becomes a strain on us mentally.  

Studies now show a link between common mental health problems and financial woes. It can almost go without saying that being in debt may lead to depression.  One similar cycle is weight management and emotional eating. Just how a stressed person may eat to make themselves feel better, resulting in more weight gain; people may shop as means to cope with depression. One article states that 95% of people who are ill spend more when they are depressed.  This vicious cycle keeps consumers in a spiral into more personal debt, depression, and anxiety.  


A CLOSER LOOK 
Depression is a real illness. It is defined as a sadness that lasts several weeks or months.  The symptoms may include loss of interest in things that once brought joy, prolonged sadness, and unhappiness. Suffering from depression may also cause low motivation and an inability to concentrate, focus and make decisions. It may also cause a great sense of worthlessness and suicidal thoughts. Anyone of these things alone can negatively impact income and debt.  In fact, research shows that people who suffer from mental illnesses are three times more likely to be in debt.  In addition to this half of the people with problem debt also suffer from mental illness. 

Debt and financial difficulties impact health in other ways as well.  Like depression, generalized anxiety disorder is another common mental health disorder.  Generalized anxiety disorder often comes along with clinical depression. The stress of paying for basic necessities may take its toll in a variety of ways.  A person suffering from financial difficulties is often put between a rock and a hard place.  They may have to choose between not purchasing everyday essential items like food, clothing, and heat or getting into more debt by using tools like credit cards to pay for necessities and bills.  Both options are less than ideal and problematic to the physical and mental well-being of an individual.

Another disorder that is related to financial problems actually gets its name from the cause; debt.  Debt-anger syndrome is a real disorder and anger is a real problem.  Anger can cause numerous health problems. Some of these health concerns include but are not limited to increased risk for heart disease, diabetes, cancer, ulcers, migraines, body aches and even the common cold. Like depression and generalized anxiety disorder, debt-anger syndrome should not be ignored.

Acknowledging the Problem 
Stigma and shame still linger around mental health. This causes many people suffering from depression and other common mental health problems to remain silent or in a state of denial.  This, of course, is not helpful.  Failure to acknowledge a problem is present only prevents and prolongs finding a solution.  The sooner we recognize an issue the quicker we can address it.  Interestingly, denial is also a symptom of severe debt.  Just like mental illness, failure to acknowledge a problem exists does not make it disappear, instead, it exacerbates it.  I speak from experience when I say, If you or a loved one is choosing not to check bank statements or credit reports, open mail or answer phone calls, denial may be the cause.      
As a society, we need to do more to encourage mental health awareness and education.  On an individual level, we can help this by first educating ourselves. By using a search engine you can find information from reputable sites.  One site that I found geared towards Muslims, is Debt free Muslims. Many sites are dedicated to educating and empowering people to take control over their health and finances. Once we are informed we can share what we know with our loved ones. 


Deen and Debt   
Deen is Arabic for a way of life. For Muslims Islam is more than a religion it is a way of life. What does Islam tell us about debt?  Debt is no light matter in Islam.  Living in today's world it is easy for us to minimize the condition.  But debt is so serious that Rasulluah used to pray for protection from it in his prayers.  One dua that we can put into practice is “Allaahumma inni a’oodhi bika min al-ma’tham wa’l-maghram (O Allaah, I seek refuge with You from sin and heavy debt).”  Another dua we can make for debt relief is also one that can be said for the removal of depression and anxiety.  
O Allaah, I take refuge in You from anxiety and sorrow, weakness and laziness, miserliness and cowardice, the burden of debts and from being over powered by men.’
We can find numerous ahadith related to debt.  One hadith that comes to mind is one that tells the story of how The Prophet (SAW) did not offer the Janazah (funeral) for a man who passed away while owing two dinars to someone.  A Sahaabi, Abu Qataadah promised to pay the debt. The next day the Sahaba told the Rassullulah "I have paid it off." The Prophet (SAW) replied, "Now his skin has become cool for him." (Hasan-Ahmad) 

What is more, is that in today's time debt often comes along with riba.  Interest is something else we should avoid as Muslim and well people trying to live debt free. We should do our best to remove ourselves from both debt and interest.  Know that when we are sincere and we turn to Allah our efforts are never in vain. The Prophet (Sal Allaahu Alaiyhi wa Sallam) said
The one who takes people’s wealth intending to pay it back, Allaah will pay it back for him, and the one who takes it intending to destroy it, Allaah will destroy him. (Bukhaari). 
Allaa-humma innee a‛oodhu bika mi-nal-ham-mi wal-ḥazan, wal-‛ajzi wal-kasal, wal-bukhli wal-jubn, wa ḍa-la‛id-dai-ni, wa ghalaba-tir-rijaal

         اللَّهُمَّ إِنِّي أَعُوذُ بِكَ مِنَ الْهَمِّ وَ الْحَزَنِ ، والْعَجْزِ ، والْكَسَلِ ، والْبُخْلِ ، والْجُبْنِ ، وضَلَعِ الدَّيْنِ ، وغَلَبَةِ الرِّجَالِ


Deen and DEPRESSION
You may hear a statement like " A true Muslim is never depressed."  or "If you are grateful to Allah you cannot be depressed."  On one level this is true, as Muslims, we are expected to rely on Allah (SWT).  When we wallow in our misery it is as if we are saying that we do not believe Allah can remove us from our circumstances.  We can forget that Allah promises us that "...In the remembrance of Allah hearts do find rest." [Qur'an, 2:155]  The problem with this sentiment is that it ignores that fact that even the prophets were sad at times. If the best of people could feel sad, frustrated and even mad, surely we can experience these emotions.

The "if you were a better Muslim" sentiment fails to acknowledge that someone suffering from prolonged depression may need to speak to a qualified person.  It also fails to recognize that depression can be detrimental.  You only have to turn on the news or check your Facebook newsfeed to come across articles about people who have committed suicide.  Quite often are those suicides related to money problems. Off the top of my head, the recent death of the CEO of Golden Krust, Yes, suicide is on the more severe side of the depression spectrum.  But, it is a reality. What is more is that according to economic suicide has taken thousands of lives in the past 10 years. 

What is more is that we can not simply tell someone that suicide is a sin.  Yes, it very well may be haram.  But this is not enough.  We must do better. To provide a (poor) analogy. A parent can tell a child that bad grades are disappointing. This may be enough for some children to be self-motivated enough to study and achieve high grades.  Another child may, however, need frequent reminders to study.  Yet, a third child may need you to model good study habits and work with study with them.  While another child may need you to hire a tutor or put them into an intervention program. Sometimes a simple reminder is all we need to snap out of it. For me personally being reminded to look at things from an Islamic perspective has helped at times. But like the hypothetical children described above, not all circumstances are the same. Sometimes, we need to do more than quote scripture.

Let us be more responsible for our mental health and the health of our loved ones and communities.  If you are or if you know someone who is seriously suffering from long-term sadness, it is ok to get help.  You don't have to have suicidal thoughts to speak to a therapist. You may be able to find an Islamic counselor, and or you may be able to see a therapist through your insurance.  Sometimes you are able to change your mood solely through dua, and individual diligence.  But when you can't, there is no shame in seeking help.  One place you can turn 24 hours 7 days a week is The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The can be reached by phone 1-800-273-8255 and online.  

TAKE ACTION
Fortunately, both depression and debt are manageable. In fact, studies show that simply getting out of debt can help to reverse depression.  After acknowledging that you may be in debt and or suffering from depression, it is time to become empowered.  You can get empowered by educating yourself.  One book that I really appreciated is The Total Money Makeover.  I have both the text and workbook; they really changed the way I managed my money. I also found his YouTube videos motivational. The author is not Muslim, but he promotes debt-free living. There are a few books that are written with Muslims in mind are.  One book I came across is written by Mark Young  The Best Ever Guide to Getting Out of Debt for Muslims. Another book is Follow the Money- A Muslim Guide to the Murky World of Finance by Abdassamad Clarke.  As far as websites some that I have checked out are, www.debt.org (An American based site) and mentalhealthandmoneyadvice.org (An UK based site)


After reading books and articles on the topic, and using reliable websites, the next step is to take action.  One way to take action is to be active.  Exercise is a great way to treat both depression and anger. Movement is motivating, it may give you the energy to work on your financial problems.  Something else that helped me was writing.  I started to write out what my current situation was and my plans.  I also started to write down what I was grateful for. These things helped to change my outlook on life.  

Simply getting started on changing your circumstances may be all you need. You can use free resources to keep the momentum going and get both financial and medical assistance.  This can range from government assistance to utilizing credit report companies. However, sometimes we need help from experts and that is okay.  Do not be afraid to seek medical assistance for your depression.  Having a professional to talk to can make all the difference in the world. 

At different points in my life, I have utilized the assistance of both an Islamic Counselors and a therapist. I have been blessed to have access to qualified knowledgeable Muslims to seek counsel. Your local Masjid may be able to point you in the right direction.  Also do not be afraid to encourage your loved ones to talk to someone besides you. It's ok to not have all of the answers. During my divorce my mother witnessed me suffer a long-term low. It was her encouragement that helped me seek therapy. She informed me that most insurance companies provide some therapy coverage. I looked into it and she was right. At no further cost to me, I was able to talk through my emotions and establish a workable plan for changing my condition with a qualified person. Be proactive "Allah does not change the condition of a person until he changes that which is within himself."[Qur'an,13:11]  In being responsible for our mental well-being, we not only need to pray about it, we need to be about it. Make dua, but also make efforts to change your circumstance. 


The same goes with addressing debt.  If you are not able to get ahead of your debt on your own, seek assistance or at minimum advice from a qualified person, like a credit counselor.  One Muslim Counselor I know of is another is Shannon Dawda.  He has written a book From Paychecks to Power: 7 Power Moves to Unlock Wealth Building.  He also has written a workbook to go along with his book.
“…And whoever is mindful of Allah, He will make for him a way out. And will provide for him from an unexpected source. And when someone puts all his trust in Allah, He will be enough for him.” [Qur’an, 65:2-3]
Do not despair.  If you are stuck in the spiral of debt and depression you can get out.  If you can acknowledge the problem you can address the problem.  Educate and empower yourself, so that you can get moving.  The first step is the most difficult step, but once you make it you can take back control over your financial and mental health.       

What is your experience with debt and or depression? Please comment below. 

Comments

  1. This is a great post. Thank you for writing it. Some time ago, I was struck when I read a hadith which reportedly discussed how (paraphrasing) when someone gets into debt, they begin to lie and break promises (I assume out of shame at first and making one excuse after the other, covering up here for something there, etc.).

    This shift in our character can perhaps also add to the depression, as we see our values or principles seemingly take a plunge.

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