Mon, 17 Mar 2003

50 percent of mental patients abandoned by own families

M. Taufiqurrahman, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The city's mental institutions are crowded with patients who are ready for release but whose families have refused to take them home.

The head of the medical services division at the Soeharto Herjan mental institution in Grogol, West Jakarta, R. Surya Widya, said 50 percent of the institution's patients were not taken home by their families when they were ready for release.

In some of the city's other hospitals, the number was about 30 percent.

According to the records of the state-owned Grogol institution, of 143 patients 70 have long been ready for release but have nowhere to go. As a result, the three main dormitories of the institution are overcrowded.

In Jakarta, there are four other major mental institutions: Duren Sawit, Dharma Santi, Dharma Wangsa and Dharma Jaya. Each is home to about 50 patients.

Surya said there had been an increase in the number of people hospitalized because of mental illness in the wake of the economic crisis, mostly because people could not afford medication.

"There is no direct link between the protracted economic crisis and the outbreak of mental illness. However, the economic hardships prevent patients from getting medication," he said.

He would not estimate how many Jakartans were suffering from mental illness, but he said there had been a slight increase in the number of mental patients in the hospital.

Surya told The Jakarta Post earlier this week that in most cases of abandonment, the reason was an unwillingness on the part of the patient's family to care for them.

"Like any other disease, mental illness requires meticulous care so that the patients can have a smooth transition into normal life," he said.

He also said families were sometimes unable to pay for the medicine required by their loved ones.

Surya said the difficulty in discharging patients had added to the woes of the cash-strapped Grogol institution.

"You should know that patients here receive services free of charge. Therefore, the hospital has to pay for the medication and living costs," he said.

Fortunately for the hospital, it recently received money from the government as compensation for the recent fuel price hike.

Annually, the hospital spends about Rp 2 billion (US$220,000) to pay the living costs of patients.

Patients who cannot be released because they have no place to go, Surya added, also prevent the institution from treating others in need of help.

"A mental institution is not an orphanage where people can dump family members they don't want around," he said.

Surya said his institution was calling families of patients and asking them to bring their loved ones home, assuring them that it would provide any necessary medicine for free.

"With enough care and medication, mental illness, like any other disease, can be cured," he said.

In a bid to resolve this problem, the hospital has begun to cooperate with the city's Social Welfare Agency.

"The agency will arrange employment and shelter for the patients," Surya told the Post.