In Indonesia, the mentally ill are often shackled as a form of protection. But a church group is trying to end that practice
Yohanes Angsel, 33, a mentally ill Indonesian citizen has been chained since 2004 after several unprovoked attacks on neighbors. "I can't see my son like this. It often makes me cry. But if I don't chain him up, I can't work," said his father, Oktavianus Goan. (ucanews.com photo by Ryan Dagur)
Yohanes Angsel remains in a small room of his parents' house located in East Nusa Tenggara province's Ende district. He can only take three small steps in any direction because he's tethered to a chain.
"He's been chained up since 2004. He smokes cigarettes every day. If not, he'll go mad," his father Oktavianus Goan, says without a hint of irony.
Angsel, 33, started to show signs of mental illness in 1999.
"We took him to a doctor in the first years, but there was no result. We even asked a shaman for help, but nothing changed," Goan says.
Initially, Angsel was shackled for four months after several unprovoked attacks on neighbors. His father took the shackles off as his feet were seriously injured.
"I can't see my son like this. It often makes me cry. But if I don't chain him up, I can't work. I need to watch over him all the time," says Goan, a mechanic.
Syafrudin Ahmad, 36, has been shackled in a hut built behind his parents' house since 2005, when he started to attack neighbors, even damaging their houses.
"I have to put him there because he likes to shout," says Ahmad Medu, his father.
Emanuel Peda, 38, faces a similar situation. He's been shackled and confined in a 1.5-square-meter space since 2007. He was caught throwing stones at his neighbors' houses.
Shackling the mentally ill is a growing phenomenon across Indonesia, according to Human Rights Watch, which released its 74-page report, "Living in Hell: Abuses against People with Psychosocial Disabilities in Indonesia," on March 21. At least 57,000 mentally ill people have been shackled and locked up in small spaces.
The report says least 18,800 people are currently being shackled, based on the latest government figures.
In Ende district, data from the social service department shows 48 of 112 mentally ill people are chained up.
Not a solution
For their families, shackling and chaining up mentally ill people aims at creating comfort, according to Divine Word Father Aventinus Saur, coordinator of the Community of Charity for Mentally Ill People.
He tells ucanews.com that with little other options of support from the government, families turn to shackling their loved ones as a way to protect them from harm.
"In general, it's done to those with dangerous behavior," he says.
However, such practices won't help cure them.
"What happens is that their condition deteriorates as their health needs are ignored," he says.
Father Saur recalled a case in 2013, when a mentally ill man from Kurumboro village developed painful ulcers that required treatment. The family received no help from local officials until local media wrote about the man's plight.
"Local authorities offered help after we pushed them over and over again and the story was blown up by local media," he says.
Nini Wijaya Sumby, chairwoman of the district's social service department, says there are no rehabilitation centers in the district, which has a small budget for mentally ill people.
"In this province, there're only two psychiatrists and both live in Kupang," she says.
Because of this, Anselmus Warawas, the man in Kurumboro was transported to Renceng Mose Rehabilitation Center located in Ruteng, where he received medical and psychological treatment.
After being rehabilitated, he was sent to Sukabumi in West Java province to join a skills training program.
The Renceng Mose Rehabilitation Center currently cares for 346 mentally ill patients.
"Since 2014, we have cured 60 people who have returned to their families," says Charity Brother John Baptista Ganti, who manages the center.
Nevertheless, mentally ill people are always at risk of relapse, he says.
"There's a way to treat them. Educating family members is very important," he says.
The center has led a campaign calling on local residents not to shackle their mentally ill family members. As a result, 15 people in four districts were released from shackles and chains recently.
"It's not easy though as most families don't want to do that. They're afraid and even believe more in shamans," he says.
Father Saur says his group of 40 works hard to educate local people.
"We visit them every week and bring them food. We slowly educate them. We want to be their brothers-sisters," he says.
But, changing local people's perceptions is a big challenge.
"Therefore, our group doesn't only pay attention to mentally ill people but also try to change local people's perception. We hope they will have a positive and constructive perception on the mentally ill," he says.
The effort works, sometimes.
Fiftonesia Yovita Rato, 27, says she has a better perception about the mentally ill. She even joined Father Saur's group in March.
"I used to think that mentally ill people should be ignored. But the group opened my mind. After seeing how Father Saur approaches the mentally ill, I realize that they need our attention and love," she says.
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