Posts Tagged ‘mental illness’

Updates on Recent Stories

July 11, 2010

For those who follow this blog but don’t keep a close eye on Indonesian news, I thought now would be a good time to update you on developments concerning some of the more popular stories. 

Starting with the most recent:

Mental illness

In my second story concerning the practice of pasung, or chaining of the mentally ill, I found a clip which told about a local doctor, Suryani, who is working on this problem in Bali, applying modern medical techniques and showing miraculous results.   The sad thing was that the local government had cut funding to this project, putting a question mark over its continuation and bringing those patients who could not afford to pay for the medication the fear that they will return to their psychotic state.

I have since heard a rumour that the reason the funding was withdrawn was political jealousy.  Dr Suryani comes from an influential Balinese family and her detractors say she is conducting her work under her own name and not giving the government the credit for its funding.  They also imply that because she is seriously rich, she should pay for the treatment from her own pocket! 

Personally, I think people should put political issues behind them and consider the victims.  Even if she is capable of funding the entire clinic from her own resources, public health is a responsibility which the government has taken upon itself.  The potential cost to Bali’s economy if tourists shunned the island because of their handling of this issue is far greater than the cost of funding the clinic.  Government funds need to be allocated according to where they can do the most good.  Finally, I think it’s something to be encouraged when a member of the elite rolls up their sleeves and does some practical work, something Indonesia’s elite are not famous for.

Dr Suryani has a website for her institute if you would like more information about her work.  You can donate towards her work if you feel inclined to do so.

Tempo’s ‘Sold Out’ Edition

The publishers of Tempo ran a second edition of the magazine which was sold out.  The police are saying they were not involved in buying up the first edition and that it was just a publicity stunt on Tempo’s part.  Members of the police force are now taking a different approach.  They are suing Tempo for defamation in comparing them to pigs.  They are deeply offended because pigs are supposedly haram to devout Muslims.  I may be out of line here, but it has always been my understanding that it is the eating of pigs which is haram, not the pigs themselves.  So perhaps they are being a little precious in being offended on religious grounds.  Seldom mentioned is the fact that unbelievers in Islam are haram, yet I doubt any police general would shun his Balinese colleague on that basis.  More to the point, it is also haram to steal and it is also haram to use one’s position in a corrupt manner.

Perhaps the police would suffer less ridicule and criticism if concentrated on solving corruption within their ranks and got on with actual policing.  It is my feeling that the people respond well when they see their police giving a good example.


At this moment, Nazriel (Ariel) Irham is still being held in custody while Luna Maya and Cut Tari are free.  The prosecutor is obviously trying to avoid provoking the public’s sympathy.  All three have undergone physical examinations to check whether their body shapes match the images in the videos.  Intimate measurements were taken, including those of Ariel’s genitals. 

Meanwhile, police have announced they are ‘about’ to arrest eight suspects for actually uploading the videos.  That was a few days ago, I haven’t heard anything about that so far.

Smoking Baby

CNN have sent a camera crew out to Sumatra to verify that, yes, the story is true.  Although somehow they managed to misspell his name and the American public now know him as ‘Aldi’.   I deeply suspect this whole fuss is a beat-up by the big US tobacco companies to disparage Indonesia in the current trade dispute.  The US is banning flavoured cigarettes, including the kreteks which Indonesia exports.  However, somehow they don’t include the menthol cigarettes which the US manufacturers make in their definition of ‘flavoured’.  Self interest creates double standards.

This Site

There are now two people working on Aboutindo.  Neither of us full time yet 🙂  You might have noticed the marked improvement in quality. 

We are planning to make some big changes soon, including self hosting.   I started a bit less than six months ago, but it seems like only three.  Thanks for your support and comments.


Is this the Way to Treat a God?

July 1, 2010

This video is 15 minutes, but well worth watching all the way through.

I wasn’t aware of this clip when I wrote my post about mental illness in Indonesia.  Lack of treatment of psychotic patients leads to them being chained or imprisoned for years as their families have no other means of restraining them.

I did not know that there are already some Indonesian doctors who have taken it upon themselves to liberate the mentally ill.  This clip shows the miraculous changes that modern medicine can bring to the psychotic.  In every case, they were able to recover sufficiently to contribute at least something to their communities.

Unfortunately, many of the families involved are too poor to afford the drugs.  As the funding for this program has been dramatically reduced, there is a danger that some of them will have to revert to their previous life in chains.  There is an interview with Bali’s Governor, who was responsible for cutting the funding even though his own grandmother suffered the same fate of being chained for her insanity.  I would love to know the true story behind this budget cut (anyone able to enlighten me?).

Every person deserves to be treated with respect.  Maybe not as much as we would give to a god, but at least better treatment than the mentally ill are getting in many countries today.

Mental Illness = Life in Chains

June 20, 2010

Life is hard if you are poor and living in a developing country such as Indonesia.  But it can be miserable if you also suffer a mental illness.  For most, there is effectively no treatment.  In the most severe cases, I’m sure that many are abused and eventually ‘disappeared’.  Those that have the protection of their family are usually condemned to a life of confinement, chained to a post or in stocks (pasung), often kept in tiny shacks.  The idea is to protect the patient and the community from each other.  Sadly, what should be a temporary solution becomes a life sentence.  Unable to easily find a cure, the family must leave their loved one in stocks for decades, causing disfigurement, withering of unused limbs and worsening their mental health.

The Western media in Australia have recently taken up this cause with this article from the Age:

The article talks about one particular facility where the inmates are chained naked to their posts with nothing to rest on but a tiled floor.  An open sewer runs past each inmate.  This makes it easy to clean, but what’s the point of that when the place reeks because of the uncovered feces and many of the inmates become sick from contact with the contents of the sewer?  I use the term ‘inmate’ rather than ‘patient’ as there is apparently no useful treatment.  According to the article, the chains are blessed before they are put on, perhaps there is some form of exorcism and if the inmate gets excitable, he is shown a big snake (I didn’t make that up).  This facility is in Bekasi, within the Jakarta metropolis.  Even though it’s not in an isolated location, I’m told there are other better facilities in Jakarta, but it wouldn’t surprise me if this one in Bekasi is better than many others.

For patients living in the country, the situation is not greatly improved, although at least they have the comfort of their families.  It is in the country that patients are most likely to be kept in pasung which are often huge tree trunks which look positively medieval.

A recent study sponsored by the University of Melbourne surveyed Samosir Island, which is situated in Lake Toba, Sumatra.  The researchers discovered 15 cases of pasung in a population of 130,000.  Surprisingly, of those cases, 9 had been given psychiatric treatment, but the families were unable to continue because that would require travelling to the city of Medan, which is prohibitively expensive for them.  Even more surprising was that the researchers were able to treat and free all of the ones they found, trained the local puskesmas (government clinic) staff , educated the community and at the end of the 6 month study only two had returned to being restrained.

The study is easy to read and contains much more fascinating information:

Of course, you are unlikely to see someone in pasung if you are a normal traveller in Indonesia, however it is quite common to see people who are obviously mentally ill.  They are often naked or in rags, their skin blackened by the sun, long hair and beard, they look like ancient mystics.  Despite their appearance they are usually under the care of a family member who is not far away.

The following link will take you to a video composed by the same Age journalist responsible for the article cited above.  It’s quite harrowing to watch, the story of Suharto and Darwina, which he relates, is pitiful:

Please bear in mind that this practice is not unique to Indonesia.  It is also common through many parts of Asia, the Middle East and Africa.  Furthermore, it was not very long ago that Western medicine treated the mentally ill much like this.  The people caring for these ‘pasung people’ have the best intentions, but lack the knowledge and the capacity to give better care.  For those who can afford it, treatment is available, there are special schools which in some cases are better staffed and resourced than many in the West.  As the research report says, when better treatment is offered, the carers jump at the opportunity.