Get Happy Campaign Fights Stigma on Mental Illness

According to the government's own estimate, more than 18,000 people in Indonesia with real or perceived mental illnesses still live shackled or locked up in confined spaces. (Photo courtesy of Human Rights Watch/Andrea Star Reese)

By : Megan Herndon | on 12:43 PM September 15, 2016
Category : News, Education, Health, Featured

Jakarta. Mental illness is often considered a silent disease in Indonesia, with many sufferers remaining undiagnosed and not getting the proper treatment, but Get Happy — a new campaign to reshape the way people think about mental health — is now trying to turn things around.

Traditionally in Indonesia, many people with psychosocial disabilities are confined to their homes, some even in shackles. Although shackling was banned in the late 1970s, a recent study from Human Rights Watch (HRW) estimated that around 19,000 people with mental problems are still confined at home or at unofficial institutions where they face very high risk of abuse.

Clinical psychologist Wulan Danoekoesoemo said many Indonesians choose not to seek help from mental health professionals because they do not want to be labeled as "crazy."

The HRW study also cited a 2015 report from the Ministry of Health that described spending on mental health as "negligible" and showed only 10 percent of Indonesians who need mental health services actually have access to them.

The country currently only has 800 psychiatrists and 48 mental hospitals — this in a country of 250 million people. Combine that with a deep-seated stigma against mental illness, it is no wonder that many Indonesian with mental illness are often left alone and untended.

"A lot of people are suffering in silence and unable to ask for the help they need because of the taboo and stigma surrounding mental illness," Caecilia Tedjapawitra, one of Get Happy’s co-founders, told the Jakarta Globe recently. "We believe providing free access to mental health education can help reduce the stigma."

To put their ideas into action, Get Happy runs light-hearted monthly workshops where the public can learn how to take care of their mental health from a variety of resources and take time to focus on their mental well-being.

The group's most recent workshop featured an advertising agency executive talking about creative thinking and finding new ways to express yourself. Other workshops have featured zen doodling, drumming exercises and vocal jamming.

Caecilia said the idea to form Get Happy stemmed from a genuine concern about the widespread misunderstanding of mental illness. She said, "It’s easy for people to understand physical illness; people can see if you have a broken leg or need stitches. But it’s much harder to understand an illness you cannot see."

She said in Indonesia, when people are feeling depressed or overwhelmed, they often refrain from talking about it because they feel doing so would be tantamount to "airing their dirty laundry."

When Caecilia started sharing about her own mental struggles on social media, many people reached out and said they were feeling the same way. What Caecilia found out is that people who experience or are in touch with mental illness on a daily basis feel good knowing they were not the only ones feeling stressed or sad.

This inspired Caecilia and her husband, Andreas Adianto, to start Get Happy to create a space to discuss mental health issues.

"We’d like to provide a safe place for people who have mental health issues to share their stories without being judged," Andreas said. "It is very rare to find a place where people can share their experiences without getting judged by people around them."

In only eight months, the movement has already helped educate and raise awareness about the importance of mental well-being to more than 500 people through their offline events and online platforms.

The group hopes to continue to promote the importance of mental well-being, and educate the public about resources available to cope with mental illness. They hope these small steps can start to change the way people think about mental health and create a "happier Indonesia."

"Too often, the only help people need [to improve mental well-being] are other people who are willing to listen to them, hugs, smiles and happiness," Wulan said.

"I personally think Get Happy has been doing an amazing job providing a safe haven where people can educate themselves about healthy coping mechanisms, self-inserting happiness and providing supportive and positive surroundings."

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