Project leaders reflect on CBM’s mental health work

CBM staff Julie Smith pictured with CBM mental health partner project leaders

In many countries, people with psychosocial disabilities such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorders and even epilepsy – which is not technically a mental illness – are often feared by their communities, and experience harsh discrimination. The lack of access to regular medication and social support mechanisms, means that people with mental health conditions are often isolated, lack employment and are stigmatised.

But CBM Australia is working hard to change this and supports programs in Indonesia and Bangladesh that work with people with mental illness and their communities.

Ashinta is the head of disability organisation, Yakkum, in Indonesia. “My organisation has been working in the area of disability for over 35 years, but it’s only in the last two years that we’ve started to have a focus on supporting people with a psychosocial disability. Staff were initially frightened when we had the idea of working in this area, because there is such entrenched stigma. But now, in the last 18 months, people have come to view mental illness as something that cuts across everyone’s life, and the stigma is gradually reducing.” 

“When talking about disability inclusion now, our view has widened. It’s not just about physical disability, but about something that everyone experiences. And because everyone is challenged by mental health issues, you realise that inclusion is about everyone”.

Ashinta, Yakkum, Indonesia

Dian, who is involved with FBA, a local non-government organisation (NGO) supported by CBM in Aceh, reflects on their community-based mental health project. The project assists people in their communities to recover through support groups, linking people to regular medication and providing support to find a job. “We’ve never had a project like this before, we’ve always focussed on the medical aspects of helping people recover or manage a mental illness. Now we’re also focussing on the social aspects – building people’s friendship groups, getting access to education, and to jobs. The hospitals in Aceh are overwhelmed with people with mental health issues and problems of relapse. Our work balances this, creating communities that are safe and supportive for people with a psychosocial disability”.

Another example of our work in this area is in Bangladesh. Taslima is involved with Bangladesh’s Centre for Disability and Development, and with the support of CBM, oversees a project that has been proactive in developing groups that support people with mental health issues in their programs. “Self-help groups can change everything for people. They can be a really effective way to give people a chance.” The CBM-supported project has over 108 disability focussed self-help groups, and most of these groups have at least one person with a psychosocial disability.

“People are less likely to be hidden away. Getting involved in self-help groups increases people’s confidence and social skills”.

Taslima, Centre for Disability and Development, Bangladesh

Julie Smith, Dec 2018

These projects are supported by the Australian Government through the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP) and loyal CBM Australia supporters.