Ni Komang Erviani, The Jakarta Post, Denpasar | Sat, 12/27/2008 10:55 AM
As many as 7,000 individuals in Bali suffer from various types of severe mental illness, with many subjected to physical abuse by their families, according to a 2008 survey conducted by the Suryani Institute for Mental Health.
A large majority of these people have never received proper treatment, the survey said.
"Most of them have suffered from the illnesses for more than five years," the institute's secretary Cokorda Bagus Jaya Lesmana said here recently.
The Institute was founded by the island's leading psychiatrist Prof. Dr. LK Suryani.
She rose to prominence after breakthrough research and treatment she conducted by combining Balinese ancient healing methods with modern psychiatry. She is well known for being outspoken, and often controversial, on the province's major contemporary issues.
Jaya Lesmana disclosed a large number of the mental illnesses cases were triggered by depression related to economic problems.
"The economic problems and hardships trigger stress and depression, which later escalate into mental disturbances," he said.
Most of the 7,000 mentally ill individuals live in Karangasem, a regency some 80 kilometers east of Denpasar and one of the island's poorest regions. The survey found 895 cases in the regency.
"The fact that the regency has a chronic poverty problem must have something to do with its high number of mental illness cases," he added.
Jaya Lesmana said a large majority of the cases had never been treated properly.
He said many families still used the traditional method of chaining people with mental illness to heavy wooden logs to restrain their movements and prevent them from hurting anybody, including themselves.
"The survey found 200 individuals were still being subjected to this method," he said.
In Karangasem regency alone, the institute's staff found 25 individuals being chained and locked inside unhealthy confinement spaces, such as cattle barns. Some had been chained for twenty years, others for more than five years.
"The families claim they cannot afford to send them to mental hospitals. Chaining and locking them is seen as the best alternative to preventing them from disturbing others or putting themselves at harm," he said.
He urged the government to take concrete measures in dealing with the problem.
"The number of cases will increase in the future due to the imminent economic hardship period caused by the ongoing global financial crisis," he warned.
The institute has treated 141 people with mental illness individuals from poor families in Karangasem.
"They have responded positively to the treatment. It shows that if these individuals were given proper treatments and medications they could gradually became healthy again," he stressed.
Jaya Lesmana said the institute didn't have enough manpower and financial resources to treat all of them.
Bali Social Welfare Agency head AA Gde Alit blamed the public's reluctance to notify the authority when a mental illness case was found as the reason behind the high number of cases being left untreated.
"We have a mental hospital in Bangli to deal with this matter. We urge the families of these people with mental illness to bring them to this hospital. Poor families are exempt from any hospital fees," he said.