Chaining up your loved ones

mentally ill in Bali, chained for decades (Spiegel)

Mentally ill in Bali, chained for decades (Spiegel)

I loved my vacation on the colorful Indonesian island of Bali. Hindu Bali contrasted starkly to the Muslim main island of Java. I spent two weeks on each, so my impressions are superficial and there is much you don’t see as a tourist.

Spiegel Online has a fantastic article exposing a dark side of Bali — its treatment of the mentally ill. Like many superstitious religions, Bali Hinduism considers mental illness to be caused by possession of evil spirits. The article describes one Bali psychiatrist’s efforts to combat the cruel chaining-up of mentally ill family members.  She tries to secure medicines, safer living quarters and teaches meditation (see this cool photo).

Sure, religious superstition in horrible but as I read the article, it becomes clear that the problem is far bigger than the Hindu belief in evil spirits — the core issue is poverty.  I imagine a large number of even naively superstitious believers in evil spirits would generally treat their supposed possessed family members much better if medications and treatment facilities were available.   They would rationalize to themselves using modern treatment even if part of their brains believed spirits were doing the damage.  So, if I had to choose improving religious stupidity or poverty, I would choose the later. Unfortunately, the two are often tied together.

I work in medicine in the USA where I also see very poor treatment of the mentally ill and the demented. The worse treatment tends to be among those who are poor. It is much easier to be gracious and kind when you aren’t struggling to survive. That is why the poor who love and care for their own stand out far above those with means.



Filed under Philosophy & Religion

4 responses to “Chaining up your loved ones

  1. Very sad, indeed.Superstition and poverty are all too often the opposing sides of the coin. It is easy to forget that things like this were done here, not so long ago. Thanks for posting.

  2. An interesting post, thank you.
    I’m not sure I agree with your statement that it’s easier to be gracious and kind when you aren’t struggling to survive, though it’s logically what you might expect. Possibly the struggle for survival creates a greater drive for cooperation.
    But in different communities I’ve lived in I’d say the culture of generosity was the most important influencing factor across different income groups, including the very poor. And I’ve seen middle class and poor communities that don’t have this culture too.
    In pre-modern societies I guess the specifics of superstition dictated whether the mentally ill were regarded as nuisance or ‘special.’ I’d be curious to know what socio-economic configurations led to cultures of generosity as opposed to cultures of stigma. I doubt that the correlations are random, but I’ve not come across any studies addressing this question.

  3. Unfortunately, chaining up and otherwise abusing the mentally ill isn’t limited to Bali. Human Rights Watch released a report last year on abusive practices in Christian prayer camps in Ghana, where mentally ill people endure abuse and neglect. It’s heartbreaking, and it needs to change across the globe PRONTO.

  4. @ myrthryn :
    Thank you. Slavery still happens in the USA albeit illegally via kidnapping and illegal transport etc. for both labor and sex.

    @ Ahab :

    @ Rin’dzin :
    It is easier to be gracious and kind [to your loved ones] is what I was referring to — not to strangers. I think you are right that wealth does not guarantee kindness to others but I think it may actually prove to improve chances of kindness to those in your family. In either case, you are right, real numbers would be fun to see. But perhaps with this qualification you may agree.

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