Andrea Star Reese at Angkor Photo Festival

November 18, 2011 § Leave a comment

What We Saw photographer Andrea Star Reese‘s work Chasing Stigma in Indonesia will be projected during this year’s Angkor Photo Festival‘s evening Slideshows curated by Angkor Photo Festival’s Program Coordinator Françoise Callier. Angkor Photo Festival is held in Siem Reap in Cambodia from November 19th to November 26th this year. You can view more images at NYT Lens Blog where the story was published on June 14, 2011.

A patient at a private treatment center. ©Andrea Star Reese

This young man was singing quietly to himself. ©Andrea Star Reese

Project Statement

Pasung means restraints or restrained. One effective restraint is stigma.

With the Indonesian Governments Program Pasung Free 2014, Indonesia has placed itself on the line to make a difference in the way people with mental disorders are treated. Economics and access and lack of common information are formidable obstacles but ultimately I am told that Stigma may be the largest challenge to overcome. Stigma is in itself a form of Pasung. It is why so few are willing to seek help from psychiatrists and may be why community outreach programs have been low priority, rare and underfunded. It is why patients become stockpiled in hospitals and shelters; their overwhelmed families afraid to take them back. Most importantly it is why men and woman don’t even know they can get better.

In Indonesia, it is common to blame behavioral changes on spiritual weakness, or spells, or possession by spirits. For Indonesians it is shameful be diagnosed as mentally ill, much better to be considered under the influence of powerful mystical forces. The popular solution is to avoid hospitals and look for help from shamans familiar with mysticism, or spiritual teachers who believe that only God can cure. People are hidden, shut away or restrained because pasung is what families/caregivers know to do to protect the afflicted and protect the community or family from a confused, perhaps violent individual. It is not done to hurt. The widespread belief is that restraints can calm.

While working on this photo essay I have met men and women in the worst and the best of conditions in hospitals, clinics, outreach programs, government and private shelters and in individual homes. What I keep finding are people trying to help the mentally ill. Indonesia has many psychiatrists and activists putting forth ideas and experimenting with programs. The best solutions are available to be implemented. This is not only true in Indonesia, but also throughout the world. No one has the perfect solution, but many are fighting to find one.

Mental Illness is a disease that can be treated successfully allowing many with Schizophrenia, Bi-Polar Disorder, or Depression to recover and live full and productive lives.

Several of the people I photographed have not been seen by a Psychiatrist or diagnosed with mental illness, stress, or a physical condition that might explain any symptoms or behaviors. Those individuals have been included in this story to illustrate the confusion that can arise when people are unable or unwilling to seek medical and psychiatric help or have no access to that help. It is possible that with a proper diagnosis and medical evaluation, a cause other then mental illness would be attributed to their condition. 

Andrea Star Reese

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