During one of the last major pandemics, the SARS outbreak of 2003, it was noted that there was a 30% increase in suicides in those aged 65 years and older. Clearly, the time we are going through currently is proving to be far more severe in its impact on our lives than the SARS outbreak which affected almost 8000 people and took the lives of 774 individuals.
Resilience, fortitude and patience are key characteristics of people who can soldier through times like the coronavirus pandemic; however various groups of people are at a risk of a dangerous decline in their mental health. Suicides, family break ups, addictions etc… can be amongst the consequences if left unattended. During the SARS outbreak, those patients who recovered from the deadly disease were at an increased risk of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Thus, in the present climate the combined effects of quarantine and coronavirus itself can become risk factors for mental health issues. Inauspiciously, the lockdown on its own is expected to increase loneliness as well as social isolation as shown by the surveys conducted by Holmes et al. As laid out by the medical journal, The Lancet, there needs to be a response on an individual basis but also a wider effort is required from us as a society. The study published in the journal suggested that whilst individually, the care for people with mental health difficulties can be provided in a virtual manner along with interventions for people who may be feeling suicidal, however wider solutions are also needed, including financial support, housing for domestic violence victims and regulated media reporting.
Given these difficult circumstances, we must seek to support those around us. It is comforting to know that the Holy Qur’an states that at no phase of our life are we burdened beyond what our souls can bear [Holy Qur’an 2:287]. For us to comprehend this concept, we can turn to the explanation given by the Caliph of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad (aba) in his Friday sermon, delivered on 29 May 2020.
His Holiness explained that the application of the verse “Allah does not burden any soul beyond its capacity” [Holy Qur’an 2:287], requires one to expand their knowledge and thus have we been taught to supplicate with the following prayer; ‘O my Lord increase my knowledge.’ [Holy Qur’an 20:115] This is because a person is made responsible for utilising the faculties he has been provided to gain the pleasure of Allah. This in turn benefits a person in times of peril, because they go on to enhance their perception of God through the capabilities they have been provided by God and through prayer. Thus, in times of hardship this heightened perception and mental capacity to bear hardships proves vital for turning to God and facing difficulties head on. The Merciful and Benevolent Creator has provided us with grounds to gain knowledge of His bounty and to increase our capacities so that we can turn to Him in all times, including during times of trial.
Further to increasing our capacities, we must help those who are weak around us. We must seek to inculcate an exemplary model in our homes so that we can provide support to our loved ones when they need it most. Meaning that only when we attempt to embody and adopt the attributes of our Creator, can we develop the patience to listen attentively to the hardships of our loved ones as one of the attributes of Allah the Almighty is also As-Samee’ – the Most Hearing. A loved one cannot feel comfortable sharing a deep part of their soul if we do not first gain their trust by showing them that we can provide a place for their thoughts to reside.
An excellent example of this characteristic is found in the Caliphs of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community who listen with great love and care to the hardships Ahmadi Muslims are facing and share in their grief. This was defined very beautifully by the fourth Caliph, Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad (rh), when he was speaking about the people of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community opening up to the Caliph. He wrote in a poem “O my Lord, is this a heart or a place for guests to stay?” This shows the deep affection one can have for a loved one, by listening to someone with the intent only to provide comfort and rest.
This is something that we can look up to the Caliphs to understand how much love and affection they have for humanity which helps ease the hardships of those in need. Indeed, serving humanity and caring for others is a great virtue. Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad (aba) explained how much love one should have for others when he gave a small glimpse into his love for Ahmadi Muslims, when he said:
“Before sleeping at night there is no country of the world that I do not visit in my imagination and no Ahmadi for whom I do not pray whilst sleeping and whilst awake. I am not doing any favour because this is my duty and may Allah enable me to ever increase in assuming my responsibilities.
Furthermore, the fourth Caliph, Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad (rh), after the couplet mentioned above goes on to write in the next verse, “If I cannot ask from You [God] then who can I ask from? I am Yours and You are my God, You are my God.”
From this we learn that albeit the pious and righteous people of God provide a place for people to rest their emotions, they still themselves depend upon the Master, the Creator; Allah the Exalted.
As individuals we must instil the love of Allah within ourselves through His remembrance, so that if a trial or a difficulty may come, it will come with His pleasure, with His special care. Thus we will be able to turn to Him and create the opportunity for any of our struggling loved ones to do so too.
‘…Aye! it is in the remembrance of Allah that hearts can find comfort;’ [Holy Qur’an 13:29]