Mentally ill patients in Indonesia shackled and abused

Shackled in chains, forced electroshock therapy, the whispering of Koranic verses, and baths under moonlight.

Mentally ill patients in Indonesia shackled and abused

These are just some of the methods used on people with mental health issues in Indonesia, where Human Rights Watch says abuse is rife and treatment options can be scarce.

Despite shackling having been outlawed in Indonesia since 1977, a report released by the non-governmental research agency Human Rights Watch (HRW) says the practice is widespread and government action on the issue has been ineffective.

According to the most recent government statistics, around 18,000 people with mental health conditions in Indonesia are being subjected to “pasung” — shackling or confinement.

Researcher and author of the report, Kriti Sharma, says the practice is fuelled by fear and stigma surrounding mental health, with families often believing their relatives are “possessed” and the result is a “living hell”.

“We found people who had been living in a goat shed for four years. One woman lived in a shed for 15 years,” Ms Sharma said.

Those who are not shackled can find themselves arbitrarily detained in institutions where physical and sexual violence and involuntary treatment, such as electroshock therapy, is rife.

Women are forced to take contraception to hide cases of rape, said Ms Sharma.

“One man in Sumatra had been living in a mental health hospital for 30 years even though he was declared fit for release,” she said.

“His family were too scared for him to return home.”

Meanwhile, so-called treatment methods employed by unregulated faith healers include bathing under moonlight and the whispering of Koranic verses.

“Even in Jakarta we met a father who took his daughter to 27 faith healers before consulting a doctor. So attitudes need to change,” said Ms Sharma.

HRW is calling on the Indonesian government to change the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill currently before parliament so those living with mental health conditions are empowered where possible to make their own decisions.

There needs to be more monitoring of institutions and greater investment in the sector, Ms Sharma said.

Indonesia has around one psychologist per 300,000 to 400,000 people, with those living in parts of Sumatra having to travel for up to three days to access care, she said.

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