Indonesia in Dark Ages on mental health care

The Sydney Morning Herald has published a thoroughly depressing article on the state of mental health care in Indonesia. While the report headlined “The face of Indonesia’s shame” offers no new information, that in itself is cause for sadness and concern. It suggests there’s nothing new to say.

People with mental disorders are still being chained and shackled and left naked without professional care, and the government has done nothing to improve the situation. These conditions persist despite developments in psychiatry and mental health care, and the rapid growth of the Indonesian economy.

TENS of thousands of mentally ill Indonesians bear an unimaginable torment, left to battle the demons of severe psychiatric disorders while chained and shackled for years on end.

Confined by the length of their chain, the wooden stock in which they are trapped, or the makeshift cage in which they are imprisoned, they are forced to eat, sleep and defecate in the same spot while their illness goes untreated.

The practice known as pasung – literally “stocks” – is common in Indonesia, and one the country’s new director of mental health does not attempt to sugarcoat. “It’s terrible. It’s a situation that should not happen. Not only in terms of psychiatric diseases, but in terms of humanity,” says Irmansyah, who took up his post in February.

“We don’t know the exact number [of pasung] but, if we scale up to an Indonesian level [after surveys in districts], it could reach more than 30,000.”

An investigation by the Herald has uncovered multiple examples of rank abuse of the mentally ill, including at facilities that receive funding by government agencies. At the Yayasan Galuh rehabilitation centre in Bekasi, more than one-third of the patients are chained up in a large shed bisected by two open sewers.

No country that aspires to be a modern democracy, respected on the world stage, can treat its most vulnerable citizens in this way. Indonesia is a member of the G20 – it should start acting like one.

(Photo courtesy of brain blogger via flickr)

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