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Indonesia reports steep rise in mental health cases

Govt fears the spike will result in more families shackling relatives instead of seeking professional help

Indonesia reports steep rise in mental health cases

A nun saws through a log to free a girl shackled by her family because she suffers from mental illness. (Photo supplied) 

The Indonesian government has called on people to seek professional help for family members suffering from mental illnesses and not to shackle them after reporting a sharp increase in mental health cases across the country.

Despite a decrease in numbers in recent years, shackling remains a common practice among families in Indonesia to deal with mentally ill people who are considered a threat to others.

The practice has drawn widespread condemnation from rights groups.

The health ministry says about 19,000 people with mental illness are still being shackled, mainly in rural areas, but the government fears figures could rise again after reporting a sharp increase in cases.

According to the ministry, at least 197,000 people suffered from mental health problems in 2019, but this figure rose sharply to about 277,000 in 2020.

The sharp increase is being blamed on pressures brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic.  

Families must overcome their sense of shame that makes them shackle relatives and instead take them to hospital or rehabilitation centers

“We fear the number of shackled people will increase as a result,” Maxin Rain Rondonuwu, the health ministry's director-general for disease control and prevention, said on Oct. 10 — World Mental Health Day.

“Families must overcome their sense of shame that makes them shackle relatives and instead take them to hospital or rehabilitation centers. Shackling is not a solution and will make matters worse.”

Felix Gunawan, director of the Indonesian Association of Voluntary Health Services, a Catholic group, said many of those suffering from mental health issues can be easily treated through drugs.

“It is important that families receive information and professional advice so that the illness can be treated,” he told UCA News.

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Many families are superstitious and don’t see such conditions as an illness. They think there is some supernatural explanation, which needs to be addressed, Gunawan said.

He said the Catholic Church is leading initiatives to treat patients at rehabilitation centers, which shows patients can be treated and recover, but the government needs to do more to help them by increasing the number of medical facilities and psychiatrists for such patients.  

According to the health ministry, Indonesia has only 34 hospitals for the mentally ill, both government and privately run, and only 1,053 psychiatrists. 

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