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Muslim school tests new approach to treat depression

posted Dec 3, 2012, 7:37 AM by Mpelembe   [ updated Dec 3, 2012, 7:38 AM ]

A Muslim religious boarding school in rural Indonesia helps students to overcome depression and anxiety by integrating them in daily school activities.

WUKIRSARI VILLAGE, YOGYAKARTA, INDONESIA (REUTERS) - An Islamic teaching centre in Indonesia is pioneering a new approach to helping treat people with depression.

Alarmed by rising suicide rates in the country, the Al-Qodir centre in Yogyakarta, central Java, has set-up a specialised depression and suicide prevention unit.

The teaching centre has close to 1,000 students of varying ages, with 37 of them struggling from mental disorders.

"What we saw was lack of consideration for people with depression, people who were suicidal. We saw that people with mental disorders were not given the adequate attention and we tried to give it to them," said Masrur Ahmad, the centre's owner, while teaching his students to recite Koran.

According to World health Organisation (WHO) Indonesia's suicide rate reached 1.6 to 1.8 people for every 100,000 people in 2001 and it is on the rise. Worldwide every year, almost one million people die from suicide; a "global" mortality rate of 16 per 100,000, or one death every 40 seconds.

Ahmad believes in Indonesian regions poverty is one of the main factors contributing to high rate of depression and subsequent suicide.

"Economic inequality in the community is one of the main causes of stress and depression," he said.

To help students with mental disorders the school has set up a specialised depression and suicide prevention unit.

The unit's patients have to follow the same daily routine as the centre's entire student body - which incorporates pupils as young as seven to some over 50 years of age.

Along with therapy, the students are taught trades such as farming, fishing and animal husbandry.

The centre believes it is important to get people with mental illnesses into normal work routines.

"In handling patients with mental disorders, in general we are humanizing people. So here a patient would be looked at as a student. With this approach one student would cure another," said head of the unit Wiranata Adisasmita.

The unit does not set a particular treatment 'deadline' for its patients and many decide to settle for a full-time board.

"In daily life I always feel less satisfied, difficult to sleep and I always had self-doubts and my heart feels so lonely," said a 23 year-old Zulkarnaen who has come to school from capital Jakarta.

In the last 45 years suicide rates have increased by 60 percent worldwide. Suicide is among the three leading causes of death among those aged 15-44 years in some countries, and the second leading cause of death in the 10-24 years age group.

Although traditionally suicide rates have been highest among the male elderly, rates among young people have been increasing to such an extent that they are now the group at highest risk in a third of countries, in both developed and developing countries.

WHO estimates by 2020 globally suicide figure to be 2.4 per 100,000 people compared to 1.8 per 100,000 people in 1998.

Recently the WHO's South East Asia regional office reported that the global suicide rate had risen from 10 suicides per 100,000 people in the 1950s to 18 suicides per 100,000 people in 1995.

As many as 73 percent of suicides in the world occur in developing countries.