Mentally Ill In Indonesia Still Live In Chains

The harsh, tropical sunlight that dapples Bali’s tourist-thronged beaches streams through the fingers of a palm leaf and lands on the shoulders of Nengah, who slumps like a rag doll amid a pile of tattered pillows in the island’s far eastern reaches.

The poor village of Abang is remote, and Nengah spends her days in a heap, staring at hands that lie in her lap like dry leaves.

Today, Nengah is not alone. Neighbors have gathered in the mid-July heat to watch as her brother uses a stone to break a chain that has bound her to a concrete pit — her home — for nearly a decade.

Nengah, whose full name is confidential, suffers from schizophrenia. After the 35-year-old violently attacked her stepmother in a blind rage nine years ago, her family decided they had to restrain her.

Her situation improved after local psychiatrist Luh Ketut Suryani arrived in the village in June to find Nengah naked, caged and filthy. The doctor consulted the family and prescribed medication. Later, Suryani helped get Nengah’s family to free her from bondage.

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.

A shortage of psychiatrists, limited mental health services, stigma and misinformation about mental illness are some of the reasons people here go without treatment. In a country of 240 million people, there are less than 600 psychiatrists, many of them based in urban centers….

By Sara Schonhardt

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