Albion Monitor /News

Stress, Despair Growing as Hard Times Pressure

by Kafil Yamin

Indonesian Notebook on related topic
(IPS) BANDUNG -- Seventy of the 90 beds in the Bandung Central Mental Hospital are already occupied, and hospital staffers assure that it will not be long before the rest are taken as well.

The growing number of visitors and patients in Indonesian hospitals is but one sign of rising stress levels as economic woes, led by unemployment, take their toll on individuals and families whose livelihood and future are threatened by hard times.

Indeed, doctors say mental hospitals and psychiatrists in the West Java capital, southeast of Jakarta, have been enjoying a boom in the number of visitors over the last five months.

"The trend of visitors is on the rise," said Dr Dengara Pane, director of Bandung Mental Hospital. "The present social, economic and political environment has contributed a great deal to the increase."

Indonesian unemployment has doubled
While official figures on the increase of people seeking consultation for stress-related problems are difficult to determine, a hospitals and psychiatrists here confirm they have noticed a considerable rise in such visits.

Some psychiatrists say they have had to lengthen consultation hours because of more patients coming in.

Dr Ibin Kutibin, a psychiatrist, said those asking to see him lately have commonly been housewives whose husbands had just been fired from their jobs as the economy continues to contract.

"They are not mentally strong enough to face the reality," Kutibin said. "To most of them, it is not just a matter of loss of income, but loss of social status."

Official figures say the number of Indonesians sent into unemployment by the economic crisis has doubled from 4.4 million to 8.7 million. This pushes up total unemployment numbers to 27.1 million out of Indonesia's population of 200 million people.

Kutibin says many wives are not ready to see their husbands jobless. Likewise, "they cannot stand to hear neighbors and family members grumbling about their husbands' uselessness."

Forty eight-year-old Sutinah, not her real name, recently went to the Bandung mental hospital because she was distressed to see her husband staring blankly all day in their dining room, smoking packs of tobacco.

Meanwhile, their 28-year-old son had to drop out from a state university because of their inability to pay his tuition fees.

"It is not easy to pass the state university's entry exam. My son made it, but we could not keep him there," Sutinah said.

"Prices of daily necessities are going crazy. My husband is just gazing out all the time. How can I stand with all these?" she asked.

Students forced to drop out of college
Tens of thousands of university students have been unable to pay school fees, forcing many to drop out. Some 3,000 students of the Yogyakarta-based Gadjah Mada University have not been able to pay yearly academic fees. Ichlasul Amal, university rector, says proposals have been made for a vacation to be called.

Doctors say other patients are youth involved in drug abuse, usually high school and university students and a small percentage of adults.

While psychological problems are caused by various factors, Pane says the economic crisis are undoubtedly a key force behind stress felt by individuals, families and society at large.

And at a time when economic problems and rife, the rapid changes of social values and norms over the years have weakened the community's resistance to such problems and supportive mechanisms.

"Values and norms changes so fast, much faster than people can expect," Pane said.

Likewise, Indonesians have not undergone a crisis as severe as this in many recent decades, as the economy had been growing by 8 percent a year.

Kutibin adds that people's problems are exacerbated by the paradoxes and contradictions they see or read from government and other officials in the wake of Indonesia's economic turmoil.

"Statements by high officials, ministers and other figures which are contrary to the reality are extremely confusing and create distress," Kutibin said.

His observation rings true for many ordinary Indonesians.

"Ministers are boasting of anti-corruption and their commitment to clean governance, while we know they are themselves terribly corrupt. I'm sick of that," said Risman, a taxi driver.

One housewife says she regularly watches ministers on television assuring that food is sufficient and available, but can hardly find what she needs each time she goes to the market.

It is nice to hear Social Minister Siti Hardianti Rukmana, President Suharto's daughter, say she is against nepotism, a university student remarked. "But of course, she's making a not-funny joke," he added.

Dr. Ahmad Tafsir, a religious and psychological expert and senior lecturer at the Bandung-based State Islamic Institute, says government officials should be helping people cope with hard times and not exacerbate their condition.

"Such lies may be just normal in politics, but as human beings they should be aware that their political games are too costly for society's mental health, common sense and conscience," Tafsir said.

Tafsir called on Indonesians to turn to religion to cope with trying times. But often, he said, "religions are only taught as knowledge, not as a way of life." Kutibin says he has found regular mosque and church goers to be mentally stronger and psychologically healthier than those who are not.

"There are a lot of things to be done by government officials. But we're not asking too much -- officials do not have to be generous or populists. Being honest and true officials would be enough," Kutibin said.

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Albion Monitor April 2, 1998 (

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