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Why I Work to Help People With Mental Illnesses in Indonesia

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In contrast to the developed countries that already have a high level of awareness to help those who live with a mental disorder, in some developing countries the conditions are just the opposite. For example, Indonesia, where mental health problems are considered to be a danger to society. People who struggle are discriminated against from the social environment, so many of them never get proper treatment. Ironically, there are so many persecution practices they must endure.

According to research from the global mental health movement, Indonesia, a sprawling archipelago country of 250 million people, “has only about 800 psychiatrists and 48 mental hospitals, more than half of which are in just four of its 34 provinces,” the Guardian reported:

Noting that the ministry of health’s budget is 1.5 percent of Indonesia’s central government expenditure for 2015, the report describes mental health spending as negligible, adding that the latest data shows nearly 90% of those who may need to access mental health services are unable to do so.

I believe one of the main reasons people in Indonesia seem to not care about people who have mental illnesses is there isn’t enough awareness about mental health issues. Many of them still think mental illness comes from supernatural beings such as demons. There’s a lack of mental health community support groups to raise awareness. It makes Indonesians who have a mental illness vulnerable to outlawed practices such as shackling, lobotomy therapy, electroshock therapy, drug abuse, etc. The international media has written about the conditions in Indonesia, and consider it a humanitarian issue.

An article based on a report succinctly titled, “Living in Hell,” provides a grim portrait of Indonesia’s neglect and abuse of its mentally ill population. It pays particular attention to the practice of pasung — placing those with “real or perceived psychosocial disabilities” in “shackle[s] or locked up in confined spaces,” which persists across the country despite a national ban in 1977. According to the report, more than 18,000 Indonesians currently live in pasung, with viable mental-health-care alternatives either inaccessible or nonexistent.

For people with mental illness who become homeless, we believe help for them must come not only from volunteers, but also from the community, as an important element that can help speed up their healing. As part of our collective work with other social communities to educate more about mental health and also make anti-stigma and discrimination movements, we believe engaging young people will help change the mindset of Indonesians about mental health, and help more people who are marginalized because of mental illness.

People with mental illnesses in Indonesia experience discrimination and stigma because society sees them as a guilty party rather than seeing them as a human being who should be helped. Many of them are eventually expelled from their families because their own families feel ashamed of them and half of them choose to leave their families so they become homeless.

Since February 2017, me and a few of my friend from different backgrounds who care about these problems thought volunteers could play a decisive role in ensuring that those with mental health problems who already become homeless aren’t neglected from treatment; they can help rebuild community resilience, develop relationships between homeless with mental illness and carers, handle their administering treatment and create greater awareness of mental health issues.

In Indonesia, precisely, in a small town named Bandar Lampung, since the beginning of February 2017, we established a volunteer community called “Komunitas Peduli Gangguan Jiwa Lampung” or in English, “Community Care Mental Illness Lampung Province,” aimed at giving them proper food and clothing, connecting them with mental illness treatment facilities and raising public awareness not to stigmatize and discriminate. Our most important goal is making sure people don’t become homeless again. Our experience trying to reach some of the most vulnerable people in society, many of whom are unwilling to talk due to the stigma of their conditions, is tricky. The situation can be made worse if a patient has acquired sensory problems, such as difficulty speaking, but we have a principle to always keep going and not easily surrender, because we believe there are a lot of ways to help them.

In Bandar Lampung itself, we have huge population of people who struggle with mental illnesses and our mental hospital can’t handle a lot of the cases, so most of them even get horrible treatment like persecution, shackling, put in the forest, drug abuse, etc. So far we’ve never had a social community to handle these cases. We started a social organization from bottom up, and with collective work, online media and raising donations, we hope we can help people and raise awareness.

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Getty image via ArtemVerkhoglyad

Originally published: February 18, 2018
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