Indonesia: Famous Acehnese actors help to highlight conflict related mental Illness

Famous Acehnese actors Gense and Burhan performed in a drama about conflict-related mental illnesses this weekend in Aceh as part of an IOM campaign to raise awareness about mental health in the province.

Gense and Burhan, well-known soap stars from Aceh TV, as well as Mat Leleh and Nini Gonrong, with music by Dokarim Acehnese Arts Community, performed in Peusangan Siblah Krueng and Jeunib, two sub-districts of Bireuen strongly affected by the almost three decades of conflict prior to the signing of the 2005 peace agreement between the Indonesian government and rebels.

Villages in these two sub-districts have also been involved in a six-month pilot IOM mobile psychosocial programme funded by the Norwegian embassy. The programme has provided basic medical care, as well as mental health treatment to residents of 25 high-conflict villages in Bireuen. Working with a network of 125 specially trained village volunteers, in conjunction with the puskesmas, or government health clinics, the mobile clinic has assessed nearly 2,500 patients, and provided treatment to 581 people suffering mental illnesses.

An IOM study of mental health in Bireuen, Pidie and North Aceh, conducted in 2006 in conjunction with Harvard Medical School and the Indonesian Ministry of Health, found that 65 percent of residents in high-conflict villages displayed high levels of depression, 69 percent ranked high on anxiety symptoms and 34 percent had symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Nearly 80 percent of the 596 civilians randomly selected in 30 rural communities report having lived through combat experiences, 41 percent report a family member or friend was killed, and one-third report having a family member or friend kidnapped or having disappeared.

But in many parts of Aceh there is little understanding of how living through combat, or experiencing other traumatic experiences, can cause Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, depression and extreme anxiety.

"Most people don't understand the effects of conflict and what causes trauma," says Dr Enny Bahari, a doctor leading IOM's medical outreach project.

"A lot of people think those suffering mental problems have been possessed by evil spirits, and don't realize it could be the result of experiencing violent events," added Dr Enny.

For further details contact: Marianne Kearney at IOM Dili, Tel + 62 812 698 9308, Email: