Jakarta (AsiaNews) - For the majority of Indonesians, mental illness is still a stigma, a social disgrace, a problem to be kept hidden at home, in a cage or in a clinic which, in reality, is more like a prison. Schizophrenia, depression, and disorders resulting from abandonment lead the subject to a progressive alienation from family, work, and everyday life, which is then transformed into deprivation, lack of feelings and ties, abandonment. Struck by the extent of the problem, which even the government purposely ignores, a Catholic woman with some medical training has decided to open a "House of Angel", which has now also become a foundation. A place where people with mental disorders, psychiatric illnesses or abandoned to their fate, with no one willing to take care of them, can find shelter, a bed, a hot meal restore their strength.
According to an unofficial report - in this area the numbers remain uncertain - from April 2009, in Indonesia the people with disorders or mental illness were more than six million, or about 3% of the total. A number that surely has grown since then, just as the population has grown, passing from 200 to the current 250 million. For Dr. Surjo Dharmono, a specialist in psychiatry at a hospital in central Jakarta, the number of people with problems "has surpassed six million." The majority of the cases are to be found in the big cities; stress, social tensions, traffic, crime, unemployment and lack of green spaces and public services are critical factors that increase the risk of psyche-related diseases.
The psychiatrist confirms that in the capital and in nearby Bogor, more than 30% of his patients suffer from mental disorders, which often are not even diagnosed due to the lack of adequate controls. Under the provisions of the 1945 Constitution, the state has the responsibility to care for the needy, including the poor, the marginalized and those with mental disorders. However, the reality is quite different: the cultural heritage, social problems and the lack of adequate facilities deprive patients of treatment and care. And in many cases, to this emarginalization are added violence and abuse, better known as "pasung" in Indonesian. This practice - common in villages and poor areas - involves confining the patient in a kind of bamboo cage, with their ankles tied.
To respond to the crisis, private citizens have started centers or institutions that take care of people with mental health problems. Among them is the Catholic Dorothea Angelic Dolly Pudjowati, originally from Purwokerto, central Java, with medical studies - though she never graduated - and a long experience in social work behind her. She's grown to become the example of how the Church and its social doctrine can find practical application in helping one's neighbor. At first she helped the homeless, providing them with shelter and food. In 2008 she formed a group with whom she founded the "house of grace", opening the door to poor and marginalized people. The parish of St. Anthony started a project to assist the homeless in East Jakarta, focusing on those who had psychiatric disorders, who were then conveyed to a counseling center called "House of Love"; at the same time, in a mobile clinic she offered free consultations. Those who have received aid and assistance have defined the work of the Catholic volunteer "holy speeches without words."
Her most ambitious project found fulfillment in 2009, with the birth of the "House of Angel" and of the the foundation of the same name, in the district of Bekasi, about thirty miles east of Jakarta. According to the philosophy of "seek and find", the center doesn't expected the sick or those in need to seek help; the activists are the ones who travel the streets, among families or in meeting points such as public parks, train or bus stations, looking for people in need of assistance and help. Like the first patient Dorothea took care of in 2008, named Ucok, found in a state of confusion on board a large truck at the depot station. "I want to help those in need of assistance", the woman told AsiaNews, "as Jesus Christ has always taught us." Commitment and passion for the other, which have earned her a special recognition from the government - an award for a Catholic woman in the most populous Muslim country in the world - because such commitment is based on the values of altruism and solidarity.