When the conversation revolving mental health is brought to the table, society plates and digests the narrative differently. Frankly in Indonesia, there is still a strong stigma that clouds those who suffer from mental illnesses, particularly created by the more conservative masses.

An American study in 2019 noted that schizophrenia is in fact not a mental health problem but was identified as a brain disease. In other words, patients suffering from schizophrenia are no different to those fighting a brain tumour.

The team behind Rumah Berdaya in Denpasar is taking an important step forward in breaking the stereotypes that schizophrenics and other mental health patients become victim to. However, what they stand for is much grander than changing a negative perception.

It started when artist/founder of art enterprise Ketemu Project, Budi AgungKuswara and psychiatrist Dr Rai Putra Wiguna were involved in a project funded by the NGO, Search for Common Ground, who asked them to collaborate together.

Budi Agung, as an artist-activist, had known Dr Rai was holding sharing sessions with his patients once a week in his home.

Little did they know, it would later grow into a community; a safe space for those who are estranged from family and friends, as well as a pivotal movement.

With the aim of introducing art to the community of people living with schizophrenia, Budi Agung initiated the Schizofriends Art Movement,enabling their friends to express through art and develop skills in art, held in Ketemu Project’s Batubulan art studio.

It was serendipitous when the two crossed paths with Ibu Komang Ayu from the Department of Health of the Denpasar Government. They worked together to retrieve an abandoned space owned by the government to gather their ‘friends’ on a daily basis. As of today, all activities are done under the one stigma-free roof of Rumah Berdaya.

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“Our friends are interesting individuals who are naturally talented – artistically and aesthetically,” Budi Agung Kuswara explained to NOW! Bali, “When we see potential, we give them proper training to advance their skills and help them grow into working individuals in society.”

The training primarily involves product making, such as designing and screen printing for clothes, making incense, and much more. They also create artworks and handicrafts together.

In the grander scheme of things, the sole goal is to prompt a feeling of empathy in society, not sympathy, in a way that one is able to overlook any forms of stereotype and instead appreciate, if not embrace, the differences. The movement strives to build a bridge between their friends and the general public, enabling them to re-integrate into the outside community as a functioning member of society.

They use art as a tool to make this happen. Today, friends of Rumah Berdaya are able to produce and sell a range of handicrafts, such as t-shirts, tote bags, handmade soap, and more. Additionally, they offer services, such as motorbike washing and shoe polishing.

The urgency to eliminate the stigma around mental health disorders in Denpasar is clear, claimed Budi AgungKuswara. Hence, when it was brought to government-level attention, the authorities acknowledged the movement and provided them with a space in Denpasar.

When a friend is discharged from a psychiatric hospital and rejected by family and friends, RumahBerdaya’s doors welcome them with open arms. Another reason they are around and alert is to reduce the chances of relapsing.

In most cases, it’s a lack of education. It’s crucial that a family member or a guardian, for example, monitors a friend’s intake of medication to avoid another hospital visit. Often, these family members or guardians have a poor understanding of mental health, such as how to care for someone who is mentally unstable, including the importance of following a post-discharge prescription.

Powered by Komunitas Peduli Skizofrenia Indonesia (KPSI), an organisation that focuses on people living with schizophrenia, the team centres their attention on creating that understanding, primarily from a psychological point of view. Ketemu Project, on the other hand, is involved in character building and heightening productivity through the creation of art. Ultimately, The Schizo friends Art Movement is around to raise awareness, to educate, and to treat the issue at hand.

“It’s safe to say that there has been a change of perspectives. Completely eradicating a stigma is nearly impossible but changing a point of view isn’t. We successfully got the government involved; we are active in festivals, art interventions, and activities that allow interaction with the public, directly connecting them with our friends. This first-hand experience for our friends and the public is a direct form of education – to show them that our friends are able to, for example, hold a conversation,” Budi Agung Kuswara said when explaining how they are gradually lifting the very backwards stigma in Denpasar.

The community has grown from a safe house for schizophrenic patients to a public symbol for mental heath education. After all, we believe that every person living with mental illness has the right to live an active and fulfilling life.

To find out more about Schizo friends Art Movement, check out Ketemu Project and Rumah Berdaya at @ketemuproject and @rumahberdaya_kpsibali or email meet@ketemu.org and get in touch!

NOW Bali Editorial Team

NOW Bali Editorial Team

This article has been written or uploaded by NOW! Bali's in-house editorial team.