03/22/2016, 15.03
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Whilst 19,000 people are in chains, someone welcomes them with generosity

by Mathias Hariyadi

People suffering from mental illness are often deemed “bewitched” and a danger to others. Poverty and ignorance lead to the terrible treatment of "crazy" people, shackled or abandoned by their families. AsiaNews’ correspondent in Indonesia met with Angelique Dolly, a Catholic woman who founded the ‘House of Angels’, a place where the sick are welcomed and cared for.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) – About 19 000 "mentally ill" people are kept in chains or locked up due to their condition in Indonesia.

These alarming figures come from Human Rights Watch, which highlights in a recent report the terrible treatment meted out to people with mental health problems, deemed by many “bewitched" and a danger to society.

Altogether, at least 14 million people in the Southeast Asia nation are thought to be suffering from some form of mental illness, according to Health Ministry data; however, there are just 48 mental hospitals in the whole country.

What follows is an article by Mathias Hariyadi, AsiaNews correspondent in Indonesia, who met with Angelique Dolly, a Catholic woman who cares and treats patients abandoned by their families.

In the 1970s, people usually reacted negatively to the mentally ill. Upon meeting the latter, people would first tend to respond by making fun of them. Eventually, they would try to keep their distance. Some would spit upon them or call them offensive names. Others would even throw pebbles, calling them “crazy”, thus widening the social and psychological gap with “normal” people. Ultimately, the mentally ill were considered dangerous, capable of endangering and hurting others.

When I was a boy, in my hometown of Klaten in Central Java, the mentally ill were taken to a clinic in Danguran, Wedi Sub-district. Here, patients were locked up in cells with iron bars, or even tied with chains or other restraints.

In rural areas, where poverty is widespread, the situation was even worse. All the mentally ill were shackled, so that they did not disturb or harm others. This practice is still widespread in the countryside, although the number of cases has been reduced. The country has made progress in respecting human rights, and people have started to have a more tolerant attitude.

I was lucky enough to meet someone who has a different attitude towards the mentally ill. Dorothea Angelique Dolly Pudjowati is a Catholic woman who set up the ‘House of Angels’, a special foundation to care for sick and abandoned people.

When I met her, Angelique told me that the practice of shackling "crazy" people is due to three factors. The first is that in rural areas people have no choice but to keep these people in a safe place. Second, the majority of Indonesians have no idea what to do in these situations or who to ask for help, since they do not have enough money to bring the sick to the hospital. Indeed, they know next to nothing about mental illness. Thirdly, the public response to these people is generally negative, since they are thought to be "occupied" by evil spirits.

Dolly does not have any medical training, but she founded the "House of Angels" in 2008 in Bekasi, 30 km east of Jakarta, which is open to mentally ill people victimised by social stigma.

In the House, she explained, "all patients are treated without preferential rights with respect to their cultural, ethnic and religious background".

Dolly told me the story of Tigor, a mentally ill man "discovered" living under a truck, completely abandoned, dirty and without communications skills.

After long negotiations with the hospital in Bekasi (West Java), Dolly was able to get him to her facility where, after a while, he was able to remember his name and that of his family. After six years of neglect, considered a "lost person", Tigor was finally reunited with his family.

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