Taking shelter in Indonesia

October 11, 2013

When you think of Indonesia and mental health, perhaps what first comes to mind are images of people shackled to trees or locked in confined spaces.  But while stories of difficult conditions dominate newspapers headlines, it is the stories of successful recovery from mental ill-health and the efforts of those on the front line in mental health care that should be told alongside these.

It is not unusual in Indonesia for shelters to be overcrowded, restrictive, over-medicated patients, and grueling conditions.  However, a shelter in the West Java district of Sukabumi is leading the way in improved practice for protecting and supporting the recovery of those that are most vulnerable in Indonesia.

The shelter has wide-open grass areas, clients are able to wander freely around the grounds, medication is regulated at appropriate levels, and there are skill development programs such as sewing and cooking.  Living areas are clean, and clients speak highly of the committed staff who work there.

The journey of recovery for people at this shelter is broken into three phases. On admission, clients are looked after and supported more closely for up to 6 months. Once they have established themselves at the shelter they move to the next stage of recovery for anywhere up to a year. Then they progress to the final stage, where support is given to return to the community.

We spoke to one women in particular who was an English teacher in Jakarta, but had experienced an episode of schizophrenia the previous year.  She was recovering well and hoped to be teaching again soon back in Jakarta.

We spoke with the head social worker at the shelter who recalled a training session run by Anthony Stratford from Mind Australia in 2010.  He recounted one of the things he learned was that “we need to encourage the spirit and dreams of our clients, unbridled to their diagnosis”. From this training, they had rethought some of their practices at the shelter, including ripping down the 8 meter high barbwire fence and replacing it with a low welcoming fence.