It’s the Demons, I Tell You!

Misfortune strikes in a multitude of ways. One could be born into utter poverty, where she could only view education as a far-fetched dream. Largely cutting her chances of attaining high level jobs, the type where one could sit in front of a desk, in a climate-controlled room, without fear of losing a home or having nothing to eat. Yet as bad luck would have it, there is another way for which misfortune could strike with a subtle savagery: by taking control of our minds, against our will.

Mental illness is perhaps one of the most devastating things that could happen to a human being. Imagine living a life where we constantly hear voices within our heads—saying whatever they wish, at times screaming at us to end our lives—and seeing what does not exist whenever and wherever, as if being stalked by invisible entities whose wills we could never understand. Basically living the life of every character in horror films, except taking place in reality. That, is what having schizophrenia is like (NIMH, 2016).

But what of those who undergo depression? Do they simply feel an endless sadness? Yes, though sorrow is a minuscule part of the depression experience. The depressed feel almost nothing. No joy, no excitement, curiosity, desire, even love. Leaving only the exhaustion of never having the relief of pure happiness. It is no wonder then, that many of the depressed choose to end their lives over having to endure never-ending days of torment (NIMH, 2016).

There exist also the men and women who could lose control of their emotions at the flip of a switch: those plagued by Bipolar Disorder. In this case, the sufferers go through cycles of emotions. Ones that they cannot control, and are mainly controlled by random factors. Anything from a dramatic event such as a death within their families, to insignificant ones the likes of failing to wake up on time, could trigger a depressive side of the disorder’s cycle. On the other hand, getting a promotion on their jobs, reading an entertaining book could spark the opposite half of the cycle. That of complete, unadulterated glee. For many of the bipolar, they have next to no clue as to why their minds could switch at a moment’s notice, inducing a sense of paranoia about one’s self at all times (NIMH, 2016).

What should we, as a society do to those who are plagued by mental disorders? Should we shun them, as they are certainly more burdensome than the average human being? Or should we endeavor to aid them, as we are obliged to do for anyone in suffering? The latter, for anyone with a conscience is clearly the path that we should collectively take.

The mentally ill, are no different from those burdened by physical diseases. They require the help of medical professionals, support from their friends and families. But before they could be aided in any way, shape, or form they require the acceptance of society; to not be viewed as oddities or freaks, rather people who are simply in need.

Developed countries such as Italy understand the needs of the mentally ill. Thus striving to meet the psychological help the mentally ill yearn for (Frances, 2015). Sadly, the same cannot be said for other nations. Particularly, the archipelagic state of Indonesia.

Indonesia, both the nation and its citizens have a unique understanding for mental illness. Both the people living in rural areas and those residing in upscale cities share a similar perception. That the psychologically ill should be avoided, seen as a menace, and are nothing more than a nuisance. It is not odd at all to see individuals in dire need of medical care wandering garbage-ridden streets, sometimes without clothes, mumbling incoherently to themselves, or screaming their lungs out at nothing. The weirdest part however, is that when a common Indonesian passes these sufferers, they avoid offering any form of help. Not even contacting authority figures for assistance.

But why do Indonesians possess such a callous attitude for the mentally ill? One reason comes from the realm of superstition. Some Indonesians believe that the mentally ill are not sick at all, but afflicted by something else altogether; they could be possessed, cursed by a rival, punished their ancestors, or have failed to appease the gods. Thus, instead of looking for a doctor, they opt for a shaman instead. That is, witch doctors that prescribes herbs, and act out rituals to rip out the supposed demons possessing the psychologically disturbed. The approach of the shamans are of course, utterly useless. However, shamans, as unhelpful as they might be are not the worst “cures” for Indonesia’s mentally ill.

The practice of ‘pasung’ which basically amounts to shackling people—without clothes or just the bare minimum, regardless of gender—with iron chains, tying them up to wooden stocks, or simply locking them up is another method for handling Indonesia’s mentally ill. According to The Human Rights Watch, more than fifty-thousand people—fifteen percent of Indonesia’s mentally ill—have been “treated” with pasung. It is easy to predict the consequences of being subjected to pasung: filth from having to defecate and urinate in a locked and unclean room, severe lack of nutrition, disease, the list goes on. Although the practice of pasung has been declared to be illegal, an estimated eighteen-thousand individuals are currently still chained, tied, or locked-up across the nation. The Indonesian justice system has unforgivably failed the mentally ill.

While proclaiming to be willing to take all steps necessary to help the mentally ill, the Indonesian government’s performance has been quite lackluster. Mental health-care professionals amount to less than a thousand, for a country that has a population of more than 250-million peoples. Such a number is the opposite of adequate. But what is perhaps the worst blunder of Indonesia’s government concerning its citizens’ psychological well-being, is their feeble attempt at constructing mental-health institutions.

In Indonesia, mental-health facilities are, in the words of one of their former patients, “Imagine living in hell, it’s like that here…” Not a particularly flattering statement for Indonesia’s mental institutions.

Said remark can easily be accepted as truth, since it is true that basic human rights are ignored within these institutions’ confines. Physical, verbal, and sexual crimes are regular occurrences that the patients have to endure. Whilst the supposed caretakers act as the perpetrators.

Reality rarely offers an idealistic portrayal of the world, but some of what the Indonesian mentally-ill population have been subjected to–from the callousness of the public, to the most obscure and harmful of remedies, and the state-sponsored institutions that assault their patients rather than assist them–would shock nearly all who read, listen, or see their tales.


Frances, A. (2015). World’s Best and Worst Places to be Mentally Ill. Psychology Today. Retrieved from mentally-ill

Staff. (2016). Bipolar Disorder. National Institute of Mental Health. Retrieved from

Staff. (2016). Depression. National Institute of Mental Health. Retrieved from

Staff. (2016). Indonesia: Treating the Mentally Ill With Shackles. Retrieved from

Staff. (2016). ‘Living in hell’: mentally ill people in Indonesia chained and confined. Retrieved from

Staff. (2016). Schizophrenia. National Institute of Mental Health. Retrieved from