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Jakarta Post

Handle with care: Support Circle extends helping hand to Jakartans with mental illness

  • A. Muh. Ibnu Aqil

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Sun, February 24, 2019   /   02:16 pm
Handle with care: Support Circle extends helping hand to Jakartans with mental illness Support Circle, established in Jakarta in January this year, provides assistance for people with mental illnesses. (Shutterstock/-)

Lysa was diagnosed with bipolar disorder three years ago. She now regularly attends therapy and takes medication to treat her manic depression.

Lately, she has felt like the treatments only addressed the symptoms of her condition, rather than prevent them.

“I can’t continue like this. Taking medication in the long term might affect me [physically]. So, I want to try other alternatives,” the 22-year-old told The Jakarta Post on Saturday.

She said that in January, she had a mental breakdown that kept her from her job for three days.

Fortunately, her coworkers and supervisors know about her condition. Her manager had even informed her about the Support Circle Jakarta Instagram account.

Feeling the weight of one of her depressive episodes, she contacted the administrators of the account. She was initially informed that she could no longer register with the support group because it was full but was later allowed to join.

By the time she attended one of its sessions, the group had met for the second time. Still, she was grateful for the opportunity to meet people who were going through the same hardships as she was.

“At Support Circle, I was able to share my experience and I also relate to what others are feeling,” Lysa said.

Support Circle Jakarta is a mental illness support group created by Alifah Syamsul, 22, alongside another ITB alumna Dyasanti Vidya Saputri to provide a space and community for urbanites seeking help other than through medication and private therapy.

Alifah said she had created the support group as she had also struggled with a mental illness. She was diagnosed with depression in late 2016 but after taking medication and undergoing therapy, she was able to repress her symptoms by May 2017.

“I was in the same position as well. And in that condition, a person needs a support system before going to a professional to seek help. But the issue is, there hasn’t been a good support system yet [in Jakarta],” Alifah said.

She initiated Support Circle when she was still registered as a student at the Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB) in West Java, collaborating with Rama Giovani from Yayasan Sehat Mental Indonesia.

“At the time, I didn’t promote the group, using only Instagram stories. It turned out that a lot of people were interested,” she said.

She returned to Jakarta in 2018 and thought about what a difference a support group would make in the capital, considering that many participants of the Bandung group had shown signs of improvement in dealing with their depression.

When Alifah opened the registration for Support Circle Jakarta on Jan. 27, 17 people signed up within 15 minutes.

Of the 17 people, Alifah screened them to limit the participants to 10 people, so the support group would be intimate and effective for its members.

Alifah said each batch would meet for at least eight sessions, during which participants can privately share their struggles with mental illness and receive guidance on how to cope with their condition and to seek help.

She hopes that once a batch completes all its session, participants will be able to “function well [in society] and know where to seek help by themselves”.

She said that the current batch was limited to ages 18 to 24, so participants could easily relate to each other because they are in the same demographic. She assured that future batches would target different age groups to deal with their specific problems.

The support group is supervised by Tarakan Hospital psychiatrist Zulfia Oktanida.

Alifah said that the doctor was also kind enough to provide a space for Support Circle at the hospital.

Zulfia said the concept of a support group had been around for a while and could be used by those needed to seek help but did not know where to find one.

“A support group to deal with depression might be challenging because it’s not easy for those with depression to meet with new people and talk. But when they want to share their struggles with others, that is the starting point [to seek help],” she said. 

She added that the best environment for those struggling with a mental illness, besides a support group, was a society free of stigma toward mental health.

“If we want to [help people], we have to raise awareness that it’s okay to have a mental illness,” she said.