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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Not understanding mental problems can lead to suicide

Not understanding mental problems can lead to suicide

The suicide rate in Cambodia has increased drastically in recent years. Statistics from the Ministry of Interior estimate that nearly 600 Cambodians committed suicide in 2012, a 13 per cent increase from 2011.

A recent survey by the Royal University of Phnom Penh, however, shows that the suicide rate was much higher, with 42.35 per 100,000 people committing suicide in 2011, which is more than 6,000 people.

A woman named Makara said she almost became a suicide victim herself.

“I attempted suicide many times,” said Makara, who added that her husband had cheated on her.

Makara said she knew she could not control her feelings while she was depressed, but she tried to deal with it by her own. She stopped working and relaxed for a while.

“I decided not to go to the clinic because I thought it wastes time and money, and I was afraid that people around me would think that I am an insane person. To be sure, I did not know much about psychological treatment.”

While Makara was lucky to have friends and family support her and stop her from committing suicide, experts say that many other victims of depression are not so lucky.

“Depression is one of the main factors that leads to the act of committing suicide,” said Hoeur Sethul, a counselling psychologist at Indigo, a private organisation offering psychological services in Phnom Penh.

Sotheara Chhim, an Australia-trained psychiatrist who heads Transcultural Psychosocial Organisation (TPO) Cambodia, said that three main factors lead to suicide: brain chemistry, the way people think, and the social environment.

“A person commits suicide because he or she has a mental problem caused by these three factors,” said Chhim.

Chhim also said that because Cambodia is a developing country, there are many problems that Cambodians face in everyday life. Furthermore, options are limited for people with mental health problems.

We can also see that some people lack understanding of mental health problems, resulting in people being too shy to meet with psychologists or psychiatrists. This can cause people to self-medicate, meaning they take pharmaceuticals without going to the doctor. This can cause the problem to get worse because they do not know what medicine to take or how much.

Since depressed people may not speak about their problems, Sethul said it is important to recognise the symptoms in others. These include sudden changes of emotional behaviour, difficultly sleeping, loss of appetite, weight loss and stomach ulcers. He suggested that people who observe these changes in friends and family to encourage them to see a doctor.

Chhim also said that patients suffering minor depression can treat themselves through relaxation and the support of relatives. But if people cannot control themselves at this stage, it can get worse and eventually lead to suicide.

Although suicide is increasing in Cambodia, Chhim stressed that the problem is universal.

“We know that mental health treatment is lacking in every part of the world; Cambodia is one of the countries that is also lacking in this”. However, Chhim and Sethul both agree many Cambodians now understand the importance of mental health.

LIFT’s suggestion: We should be able to understand more about the psychological problems and the mental illness issues and find the right solutions. People should encourage others to face their depression and find the right treatment.

Furthermore, do not look down on people who are depressed or think of them as insane. 



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