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Q: Recently a member of my family died, which left me thinking about death all the time. I am always in a sad state. May I ask you what does Islam say about depression and negative thoughts? Since God says that this life is a test for us, and since He listens to our prayers, what is the status of a prayer to Him to protect us from such a test? How does one increase one’s trust in God? Can prayers change destiny? Does a person incur God’s anger if he is sad all the time?

A: There are two aspects to your problem: Medical and spiritual or religious. The medical is depression, which is one of the top three diseases that affect people in the world today. It is rapidly increasing and is predicted to overtake all other diseases soon. Hence, it must not be overlooked, or treated casually. The World Health Organization maintains that psychological or mental diseases are treatable and curable, just like physical diseases. Moreover, it is normal that people could develop depression after some personal misfortune. Therefore, it is important that you should see a competent doctor or a psychiatrist for your condition. Normally, depression is treated with anti-depressant medicaments, and personal sessions, or by one of the two methods. A competent doctor would be careful with anti-depressants, because some of them are habit-forming. In your case, you may need them for a limited period, not exceeding a few weeks or months.
The religious aspect is well known. What you have written at length shows that you do know all that I can say on this. This life is a test and we need to prove ourselves. One important aspect of that is to accept God’s will whatever it brings us, and to realize that whatever comes from God is for our benefit and happiness. If one keeps these ideas in front of one’s eyes, they are bound to give him satisfaction and contentment in all situations. But this may be easier said than done, because depression affects the spirit and the mind. Hence, it is important to always think of the positive aspects in one’s life. Anyone of us can think of a long list of positives if we only reflect a little and compare our situation with that of people who are less privileged.
This is why the Prophet (Pbuh), teaches us to think of those who are below us, rather than those who are above us. If we follow his advice, we will recognize God’s favors and be thankful to Him for them.
What I can tell you is that reading the Qur’an more frequently is always helpful in dispelling momentary depression. If you have the combination of an anti-depressant, positive thinking and reading the Qur’an, your condition will, God willing, show marked and quick improvement. It is certainly appropriate to pray to God for protection against failure in the test He puts for us. We may appeal to Him for help so that we are able to pass this test. There is nothing wrong with that. In order to increase one’s trust in God, it is important to accept what comes from Him. We attribute everything in our lives to Him. A person who is made redundant
feels very unhappy. But if he has proper trust in God, he knows that his sustenance is not made by the job he does, or the company employing him; rather, his job or company is only the means by which he gets what God has given him. If he loses his job, it is only because God has changed this means, and he should trust that God would give him a new opening. If he does, relying on God all the time, he will soon be earning what may be better than what he lost. When one door closes we are often engaged with looking at the closed door so intensely that we tend to overlook other doors that open for us. Prayer can change things for us. God says in the Qur’an: “Your Lord says: Pray to Me
and I will respond to you.” This is a promise, and God never fails in His promises. A feeling of sadness does not incur God’s anger. What incurs it is a feeling of discontentment. When one is always grumbling, moaning his misfortunes, thinking that he does not get what he deserves, etc. this is evidence of lack of faith. One should always remember the verse that says: “Should you try to count God’s blessings, you will never be able to compute them. Yet man is persistent in wrongdoing, stubbornly ungrateful. This inability to compute God’s blessings applies to every one of us. None of us, regardless of any misfortunes that befall him or her, will ever be able to compute the blessing God gives him or her throughout their lives. Therefore, we should stress these, rather than the misfortunes that befall us.