Sat, 31 May 2003

Depression an aftermath of the Poso conflict

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

About one out of every eight people living in Poso regency, Central Sulawesi, are suffering from mental illness as a result of the sectarian conflict there that claimed more than 2,000 lives between 1998 and 2001, a team dealing with the mental welfare of conflict victims said.

Team head Dr. Eko Susanto said about 30,000 people out of Poso's population of 239,000 were suffering from moderate to severe mental disorders, many of which were triggered by the deaths of close relatives.

"They are generally refugees who either have already returned home or have yet to go back home. Many have been traumatized by numerous incidents of violence in the past," Antara quoted the doctor as saying in Palu, the capital of Central Sulawesi, on Thursday.

Eko said most of those suffering from mental disorders were women and children who lost relatives during the conflict.

He said sufferers could be found in all of Poso regency's districts, as well as neighboring towns and regencies, including Palu.

He said the number of people suffering from mental illness had increased drastically because of what he called "an act of ignorance".

The team is having difficulty treating the sufferers because of a shortage of antidepressants and antianxiety drugs. He said the shortage was caused by a halt in the distribution of drugs by the central government to the area.

"Medical treatment is now even more difficult because the team is running short of medicine. This has pushed many people who were suffering from stress into serious depression," he said.

Eko asked the government for a shipment of drugs in the middle of last year, but the request was never met. Without drugs to treat patients, he and his team can only offer counseling to sufferers.

However, he said he had seen significant progress as a result of the work being done by his team.

The sectarian conflict that erupted in Poso in December 1998 claimed more than 2,000 lives and displaced tens of thousands of others, both inside and outside the regency.

The conflict officially ended when the two conflicting sides signed a peace agreement in Malino, South Sulawesi, on Dec. 21, 2001.

Separately, the chairman of the Malino Peace Working Group, Sulaiman Mamar, said he had assigned 21 specialists from various backgrounds to help restore normalcy to Poso.

The specialists are psychiatrists, psychologists, sociologists, anthropologists and religious leaders from several different institutions in the province.

A team also is preparing to assist in handling trauma cases at both the district and subdistrict levels, to support a similar team operating at the provincial level.

The work being done by the specialists is meant to help residents resume their normal lives and reduce feelings of anger and revenge, which the experts fear could trigger future violence if not dealt with.