Advertisement
Health

What It’s Like to be Young and Mentally Ill in Indonesia

A collective of university students are trying to change the stigma of mental illness.

by Katyusha Methanisa
11 November 2016, 7:25am

I was born and raised in Indonesia, where thousands of mentally ill individuals are in chains. It's a place where some still view the mentally ill as lacking in faith or being possessed by demons. Families will consult with local shamans instead of doctors, or hire religious leaders to conduct exorcisms to clean the curses and demons from the spirits of the mentally ill.

For the less mystical, our hyper-conservative ideas of what's masculine and what's feminine are so deeply ingrained in society also makes it harder, for men especially, to open up about their issues. Fear of the kinds of punishment society often deals mentally ill people, most Indonesians choose to keep quiet about their own mental health problems.

This is why my friends and I created 2AM Club — a zine that discusses mental health. We decided to make a zine to reduce the stigma associated with mental illnesses, one issue at a time.

It's an issue that's deeply personal to me. I've been struggling with untreated depression for years, and have even attempted suicide during my senior year of high school. I told a few of my close friends, but I didn't feel like they understood what I was going through. I was afraid that other people would think I was just being dramatic, or that I had no one to blame but myself for feeling immense sadness every other day.

It's a place where some still view the mentally ill as lacking in faith or being possessed by demons.

I only recently sought out professional help and, even now, I still wonder how other people cope with their own problems. Creating something based around my struggles gives me a sense of purpose, and I hope that it will help others who are going through the same thing. Talking with my friends who were dealing with the same issues helped me feel less alone, and that is exactly why we decided to create this zine.

We reach out to Indonesians struggling to make sense of mental health issues for a question-and-answer section titled "Agony Aunt." In a country where frank, open discussions about mental health are still taboo, it's important to create a space where people can freely express their concerns or ask questions. We get a lot of questions like, "I often [symptoms here]. Am I actually depressed?" which shows how hard it is for most people to go and get diagnosed by a professional.

Since self-diagnosing is dangerous, we usually answer this kind of questions by referring them to mental health services in their area in order to encourage them to actually go. Most of the people who reach out are teenagers who are still in the closet about their mental health conditions. Amongst these teenagers, Zara, the main contributor for the section, finds that most are actually aware of mental health, but some have seemingly fallen victim to the side of Tumblr that glorifies depression.

"I don't mean to trivialize any mental issues they may have, but when we want to get rid of the stigma and there are kids on the other side of the spectrum who think mental illnesses are trendy, it gets even harder," Zara said.

Instead of romanticizing our illnesses, we try to have a straightforward approach in creating content for the zine. Since none of us are professionals, we try instead to be an honest friend who people can talk to about their problems.

Some people believe seeing a professional would make others think you're "crazy" for talking to a psychologist or psychiatrist.

Anida, a 2AM Club contributor who is majoring in Psychology, said that while there have been improvements to Indonesia's health care system, like BPJS (Badan Penyelenggara Jaminan Sosial) covering mental health expenses, a large percentage of Indonesians still don't know how and where to go to seek help.

On the other hand, some people believe seeing a professional would make others think you're "crazy" for talking to a psychologist or psychiatrist, or taking medication. We would like to get rid of that fear and encourage others to seek help from places like trusted mental health services and cheaper alternatives, like psychology clinics in universities.

In the long run, 2AM Club hopes to explore various illnesses from different perspectives, and provide more information on where to seek help, including testimonials from people who have used mental health services.

We want others to realize that people with mental illnesses can be functional, and that the person sitting next to them could be struggling with something.

"Aside from [the zine] being our own outlet, we wanted to raise awareness and start a conversation about mental health through writing about our own experiences as people who live with mental illnesses," contributors Tomo and Diedra said. "We think it's important to help give a platform for people who don't have a voice."

The first issue of 2AM Club is available to read online on http://bit.ly/2AMClubVol1 or in printed form at shows in Jakarta and Malang.