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A regime’s legacy

Many of us go through short periods of sadness or loneliness. They can be the result of a death, a relationship break-up, the loss of a job and substance abuse.

But when feelings of sadness and being unable to cope and live a normal life set in, it is possible that people have what is known as a major depressive disorder (MDD), also called clinical depression and commonly referred to simply as depression.

The National Institute of Mental Health states that depression is a mental state or chronic mental disorder characterised by feelings of sadness, loneliness, despair and hopelessness.

Physical signs and symptoms may include a lack of energy, appetite changes, sleeping problems and unexplained aches and pains.

Depression is estimated to affect 350 million people, making it the most common mental disorder worldwide.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) predicts that depression will be the biggest cause of the global burden of disease by 2030.

Cambodian survivors of the Khmer Rouge regime endured forced labour and starvation, witnessed the executions of family members and, as a result, have been traumatised by this experience.

A study by the intercultural psychiatric program, at Oregon Health and Science University, reported the survivors felt overwhelmed and helpless, and displayed avoidance behaviour.

“I don’t want to talk about the past,” many survivors of the genocidal regime say.

Recurring nightmares are common among survivors. Many Cambodian men still fight the Khmer Rouge in their sleep and cry out to ghosts every night.

Many can still picture gruesome images of their babies', parents' and husbands’ bodies cut up, with their organs hanging out. Chronic mental illness has affected these Cambodian survivors.

In addition, the spiritual aspects of unpaid debts have attributed to feelings of depression. As Buddhists, they believe that if you die in debt, you will be reincarnated in a lower life form.

During the dry season, farmers are not able to produce enough food and run up debts that cannot be paid. Families end up losing their houses or land or whatever else they used for collateral, and depression kicks in.

Cambodian culture differs from Western culture, as Cambodians, especially men, are not accustomed to discussing their feelings and opening up.

Cambodians are reluctant to talk about their experiences and related illnesses.

But getting the support you need from family and friends plays a big role in fighting depression.

With technical support from the WHO and other partners and donors, the Ministry of Health has declared mental health a priority.

It’s okay to seek professional help in dealing with this serious illness.

The TPO Treatment Centre, in Phnom Penh, helps men, women and children seek treatment for mental and emotional health problems.

Trained counsellors, psychiatrists, psychologists and nurses provide services dealing with stress, anxiety, depression, substance abuse and other mental-health needs.

For more information about TPO, please call +855 (0) 23 63 66 991.

The Social Agenda with Soma Norodom
The views expressed above are solely the author’s and do not reflect any positions taken by The Phnom Penh Post.

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