New law guarantees better care for patients with mental illness

Margareth S. Aritonang

The Jakarta Post


Jakarta   /  Wed, July 9, 2014  /  02:26 pm

Aiming to improve mental health services, the government and the House of Representatives approved the Mental Health Law on Tuesday, which mandates the establishment of mental health centers at community health centers (Puskesmas) and hospitals.

The new law also outlawed the practice of shackling (pasung) people with mental illnesses, thus, making it punishable by law, as stipulated by Article 86. The practice is still common, particularly among low-income families.

'€œAccording to our 2013 National Health Research [Riskesnas], 6 percent of the population, or around 16 million people, suffer from mild mental illness and 400,000 from severe mental illnesses. As many as 57,000 have been physically constrained,'€ Health Minister Nafsiah Mboi said before a House plenary meeting on Tuesday.

'€œThere were no measures [before the law'€™s enactment] to guarantee the rights of those who have mental health problems. Thus, the government strongly agrees with the endorsement of this law so we can protect them,'€ she added.

During a discussion on the matter at the House, the ministry'€™s director on mental health, Eka Viora, said, '€œThe number of mental health patients will potentially increase after the presidential election.'€

Indonesia has a pre-existing law on a similar matter, which was signed by former president Soekarno in 1966, but restrictively regulates the rights of those with mental illness.

With the endorsement of the new law, the central government and regional administrations are responsible for ensuring the health facilities are set up within five years of the law'€™s approval.

The government must also provide quality human resources to assure quality services for all patients.

'€œMost importantly, this new law will comprehensively provide equal services to all patients,'€ deputy chairman of House Commission IX, which oversees health and manpower, Soepriyanto, emphasized.

In addition, the new law will force the government to reach out to people with mental problems, particularly those on the streets that could harm themselves or others.

The new law additionally requires a thorough mental checkup for candidates applying for government positions.

Article 74 says that all government officials, and any applicants, must undergo tests on intelligence, personality and psychology.

The endorsement of the new law personally amused Commission IX lawmaker, Nova Riyanti Yusuf from the Democratic Party, who formerly chaired a special working committee tasked to deliberate the bill. Nova, in order to keep a promise she made, swam in the main pond in front of the House as soon as the plenary meeting officially approved the law.

'€œThe bill deliberation was almost halted due to a heated argument [among lawmakers]. And then the drama over my dismissal from the commission chairmanship happened. But as the law was finally approved I must keep my word,'€ Nova said shortly before she jumped into the pond.

Nova, a former Commission IX deputy chairman, was dismissed from the chairmanship by the Democratic Party over her open support for presidential candidate Joko '€œJokowi'€ Widodo of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P)-led coalition, which was against the Democratic Party'€™s official stance.