“Living in chains”

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A recent National Public Radio report investigates the isolation and unique challenges of Indonesia’s people with mental disabilities.

A map of southeast Asia with word Indonesia prominently displayed in the middle

News from Indonesia

One of the individuals profiled in the report, Nenjah, a 35-year-old man with schizophrenia, spent nearly a decade chained to a concrete pit, until he was freed this past June.

“Nengah’s situation is not unique in Indonesia, where the mentally ill are often locked in chicken coops or chained up in family yards to prevent them from disturbing the community,” according to the report.

Dr. Irmansyah, the director of mental health at Indonesia’s Health Ministry, estimates that more than 30,000 people nationwide are “living in restraints.”

Since becoming the ministry’s director of mental health in April 2010, Irmansyah has attempted to bring attention to human rights abuses of people with mental disabilities. Last year, he announced “Meuju Bebas Pasung,” a roadmap to free people in chains.

“Awareness is rising that restraints are against human rights,” said Irmansyah, but he worries that increasing depression among the elderly, behavioral disorders among teenagers and side effects of drug use will only increase the need for better care. “We need to be ready for these problems,” he said.

People with mental disabilities have almost no access to health treatment in Indonesia, the world’s fourth-largest country.

Despite having more than 240 million people, there are less than 600 psychiatrists nationwide, most of whom are based in urban centers. Less than 2.3 percent of the national budget goes toward health care. Of that, less than one percent is specifically designated to mental health care.

But more than anything, Indonesia’s people with mental disabilities face seemingly endless barriers created through social stigmas and a lack of awareness regarding the challenges faced by people with mental disabilities.

“Many Indonesians still regard mental illness as a curse caused by black magic and best treated by a spiritualist rather than a medical doctor,” according to the report.