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Solemen’s Outreach to Those Suffering from Mental Illness in Bali

Ostracized, Ridiculed and Often Left Living in Chains, Bali’s Solemen Extends Kindness, Care, Compassion, and Acceptance to the Mentally Ill in Bali

Access to professional mental health care remains beyond the reach of many people around the world, In Bali, this problem is complicated further by a paucity of mental health facilities, expert practitioners, and funding sources for Balinese living below the poverty line. Add to these problems, the additional layer of public misunderstanding that oftentimes views people exhibiting mental health issues as "possessed people" under the influence of malevolent spirits and spells.

Sadly, it is not unusual to find mental health patients hidden from plain sight, confined to cages for years on end, or relegated to live their lives in chains put in place by family members overwhelmed with caring for someone who they fear may be a danger to themselves or others.

While Indonesian medical care is making great strides on all fronts, including the quality of mental health care, there are still many people enduring suffering due to a lack of information on mental health issues, misinformation that renders mental illness a taboo subject, and limited financial support for mental health care.

Encouraging signs are seen in the Government of Indonesia’s recent decision to include coverage of mental health treatment under the State-sponsored BPJS medical system.

But, despite these advances, there are still many impoverished Indonesians who remain unable to access psychiatric and mental health care that, through either lack of resources or a lack of understanding of their problem, spend their lives in confinement and chained in conditions resembling the Medieval times.

Although the quality of mental health care in Indonesia is slowly improving, there is still much that needs to change and be done to assist those living in daily torment and pain. People with mental health issues are often misunderstood in Bali, suspected in some instances of being possessed by evil forces or the victim of an evil spell cast by an inimical neighbor. As a result, there are many cases where those suffering mental illness are discovered chained to the floor or locked up in cages - hidden from public view and essential human contact.

As is often the case on the Island, The Solemen Foundation - one of Bali’s most successful and visible community outreach programs - has come to the rescue by providing desperately needed humanitarian assistance to mentally ill Balinese living in dire circumstances. “Sole-buddies” – the name given to those Solemen assists, can be found living in every corner of the Island where they benefit from essential housing, nutritional and medical assistance provided by the Foundation.

To help bridge the mental health needs of Bali’s poor, Solemen now has psychologists on hand who travel with the Outreach Team to assess the Sole Buddies and provide them with an accurate diagnosis, as well as the vital healthcare needed to calm their troubled daily existence.

A following anecdotal tour of a sampling of Solemen’s current cases of “sole buddies” afflicted with mental health issues underlines the compelling need for their work within this segment of the community.

Armijn

Originally from Java, Armijn is 38 and has been the recipient of Solemen assistance for the past three years. Diagnosed as suffering from severe schizophrenia, Armijn would violently attack family members, including a sister that he believed to be a snake. His attacks became so aggressive that his family chained him to a tree in the family compound for 18 months.

His family decided to relocate to Bali in search of a new start for their mentally disturbed son. When Solemen’s mental health team first encountered Armijn, he was living in Bali free of chains, but still prone to unpredictability and restlessness. Unable to leave him unattended, whenever the family ventured out they felt compelled to putting him in chains.  In the course of caring visits conducted by the Solemen Outreach Team, calming medications were made available that made a marked change in the man’s life and that of his family. Prior to Solemen’s intervention, the family lived in a small shack on a tiny piece of land.

By returning a degree of productive normality in Armijn’s life and via assistance given to his family, the household now has a plot of land lent to him by the local community on which they grow crops such as eggplant, water spinach, papaya, cucumber, and Lele Fish. These products provide a more nutritious diet for the family as well as an income for items sold at the local market.

Armijn, by virtue of the continuing treatment provided by Solemen, is no longer an object of ridicule reduced to living in chains. He assists his family on a daily basis with the cultivation of their small landholding. Moreover, his sister is no longer viewed as a snake and will soon rejoin a harmonious family unit.

Noto

Mentally unsettled since his teenage years, Noto, who is now in his early forties, has received a confirmed diagnosis of schizophrenia. In and out of hospitals, Noto’s life was a relentless cycle of disturbed behavior requiring supervised care, release during periods of emotional calm, followed by readmission to the mental health ward of a local hospital when he failed to continue his prescribed course of medication.

Due to aggressive behavior, Noto was considered dangerous to himself and his family leading to his incarceration in a small room, once used as a toilet, for more than twenty years.  After Solemen’s intervention and care by their expert team, Noto’s violently aggressive outbursts directed at his mother are coming under control. Each week the Solemen Outreach team pay him visits that include local outings, medication, and shared lunches and coffee breaks with the team members.

With hospitals unprepared to provide in-patient care for Noto, Solemen is providing weekly therapeutic visits and working to reduce and, hopefully, eventually eliminate the need for Noto to spend his days in physical restraints.

Wayan

Wayan is his early forties and was the first sole-buddy assisted due to mental health issues.  Discovered naked and cowering in the corner of a cage, Wayan spent his days and nights without a bed or running water.

Wayan is the father of two teenage sons who witnessed their father’s daily incarceration in the impoverished setting of a dilapidated dwelling

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Solemen's initial assessment also identified that Wayan also suffered from a condition that required urgent abdominal surgery. Facing the challenge at hand, Soleman arranged the needed surgical care and set about renovating the family home. During his hospitalization, the Outreach team commenced a program of psychiatric care that allowed Wayan to return home where a new space awaited him without a cage.

Eventually, Wayan was moved to live with his parents and an adult sister who is also schizophrenic. After a violent attack injuring his mother, Wayan was sadly recommitted for a period to a government mental health facility.

Now back home, Wayan is reported to be doing better and under constant monitoring by the outreach team who ensure he unfailingly takes his medications. Proof that Wayan may have turned a positive corner in his recovery is the fact that he is now working collecting plastic bottles that he is able to sell to a recycling facility.

While Indonesia works to improve the level of medical service extended to all its citizens including those suffering from mental illness, Solemen Bali is working to help those who “fall between the cracks” of present limitations of government-provided hospital care and must then rely on family care becomes especially strained for people of limited means.

In addition to supplemental care, Solemen brings compassion, acceptance and sustainable care to a

Please visit the Solemen Website

Balidiscovery.com thanks Janne van Heesch and Roselyn van den Berg for their assistance in the preparation of this article.

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