Download Last week on Asia Calling we travelled with Balinese psychiatrist, Dr Luh Suryani to visit mentally ill Balinese held for years like animals, in chains, cages and even medieval stocks.
The mentally ill were locked up by their own families, forced to eat, sleep and defecate in the same spot while their illness went untreated until Dr Suryani came along.
In today’s program we join Dr Suryani and her team again but this time we also meet some of her success stories.
We are walking along a stone path through thick jungle, some beautiful giant bamboo, banana and coconut trees. We have come to a house in a coconut grove now and this is where Dr Suryani says a blind man, who is also according to her diagnosis suffering from Schizophrenia is being tied against his will by his wife who is refusing to let him go or be seen by Dr Suryani. So Dr Suryani is coming here against the wishes of this man’s wife.
Wow, that is quite a confronting scene. This is really what many would describe as paradise, in this grove of coconut trees there are beautiful frangipani trees and grass then you go into a very small room that absolutely reeks of urine and feces - the smell is very overpowering - it’s very hard to be in there for 10 minutes let alone how long that man has been in there and a man is chained to two pieces of wood.
One leg is in a metal stock and he keeps rubbing his leg because he says it’s too tight.
Wayan Wenten is his name and he has been sitting in medieval stocks in this room for nine years.
Wayan’s sightless eyes fill with tears when I shake his hand. It seems like it’s been a long time since someone has touched him.
Q. Do you get fed here? "Yes, twice a day - 4 in the morning and 5 in the afternoon."
Q. Does your leg hurt? "Yes, after years being here it’s sore. Very tight because I haven’t moved them for years. I am not allowed to be freed. My family would not let me."
Q. Do you wash? "I can’t have a proper wash for the mattress will get wet, I don’t want that."
There is no one around except a farm worker.
Suryani asks him if Wayan has been aggressive since they started treatment of him three years ago.
No, he replies, not at all.
So what we want is for the family to release him or I will call the mental hospital and have them pick him up. Otherwise we will call the police.
He looks worried and he rushes off to find someone.
The high priest of this village arrives; he is dressed in a bright yellow sarong and crisp white shirt. Three grains of rice have been placed on his forehead.
Wayan’s wife works at the high priest’s house and he tells Dr Suryani that she is worried for her safety if Wayan is freed.
“When he was free he would get very angry and violent, very violent towards his wife. When other people came here he was normal with me also he was totally fine but he hit his wife often, would pull her hair and put a knife to her throat. If he was stressed he went crazy like that at her. I have often suggested to his wife that she should let him go now but she says she is frightened that she will be attacked again. I have also told his son to let him go And his son says, yes, I know, I feel awful about it if he wasn’t sick then I would never put my father in stocks, he told me. That’s enough. That’s all I will say.”
Where is his wife now, I ask.
At a relative’s wedding, he says...she is busy.
Dr Suryani’s son, Yayan is on the phone to Wayan’s son patiently trying to convince him that their family will not have to pay anything for his treatment.
Bali’s Governor has just launched a major public health initiative, offering free health care for all Balinese.
Dr Suryani’s team will pay for the rest.
“I said to him we have been treating him since 2008 and have we ever asked for money from your family? We have never asked for money. So you need to understand money is not a problem for your father but your willingness to give treatment to your father so that he can get better is the most important thing. Now we have a different strategy not just give the treatment at home because the family seems like they are not cooperating with this kind of treatment so we need to bring the patient to the hospital to get him away from the family and let the family have some space."
Q. Now you can have a fairly normal conversation with him?
"Yes, but before he was more loud shouting and not aware of the situation around him but now he seems to understand but kind of hopeless, just let me be...no one wants to look after him kind of lonely.”
Many here in Bali believe the root of mental illness lies in the supernatural, which Western medicine is unable to treat.
Dr Suryani has a unique approach to psychiatry that includes meditation, Hindu spiritualism and preventative mental health programs as well as the use of western anti-psychotic medicines.
“So Balinese trust more the healer in the past. But after I introduced meditation and relaxation in the public programs, people understand that a psychiatrist also understands about the supernatural but the other way not directly talking about ancestors or God or godness and so on. No, but we try to translate the healer concept to the daily understanding of mental disorder.”
She has had some extraordinary results.
We have come up a laneway at the foot of the volcano to come and meet one of Dr Suryani’s success stories, this is where Gusti lives.
We have come into a traditional Balinese compound where the extended family lives together. There is a puri or small temple inside the compound, over to the right there are couple of rundown rooms and it’s here Gusti spent six years of his life, his own family chained him up because they had lost all hope for him.
Now over to the left he is sitting with his family in front of the well-built houses.
He is showing us some of his paintings, beautiful works of art depicting Ramayana stories. He looks an incredibly different man - it’s impossible to recognize him from the footage of when Dr Suryani found him.
Q. This is your work? "Yes."
Q. So what is this?
"This comes from the Ramayana when Hanuman goes to Raka. Do you know the Ramayana? Little bit. This is Hanoman, the white monkey."
Q. Right. When you were in your room chained did you paint? "No."
Q. Do you still sing?
"Ramayan song? Yes.“
He also is translating ancient Javanese texts into Balinese so he can sing the ancient Hindu texts. Clearly, a very intelligent man.
Gusti’s brother is sitting next to him, smiling nervously.
Dr Suryani reminds him of how he resisted her at first.
“Yeah that’s true. I didn’t want to do what she said because I was scared that we wouldn’t be able to follow through with the treatment because I worried she would stop and we would not be able to pay. But the reality is that Dr Suryani has followed through and continues to look after him and cover the costs and for that I am so thankful. I love her now like our grandmother.”
Two days later and I have heard that Wayan, the blind man who has been in stocks for nine years is now at the mental hospital. So I am heading there.
Dewa Man, the human relations manager, meets me at the entrance.
He takes me to find Wayan.
He is in the observation room; there is a window and a private toilet. Wayan smiles as I ask him if he remembers me.
“Things have changed so much since you saw me last. Thank-you. My room is clean and the smell is good. My wife and one of my children have come here. I can’t walk...have to crawl; legs are stiff after being in stocks for so long. I had to be helped when having a bath. That’s was my first bath for years it felt so good...feel so much fresher. When I get out of here I want to return to being a farmer. I am feeling so much better since you last saw me, now I have hope.”