At factory Phnom Penh on August 20, a groundbreaking workshop titled “The Path to Mental Illness Relief” took a bold step towards addressing Cambodia’s deeply rooted psychological wounds.

This workshop, which ran from 9am to 5:30pm, paved the way for a more open dialogue about mental health and emotional wellness among Cambodians.

Spearheading the initiative was Cambodian artist and activist Adana Mam-Legros, drawing from her own personal journey to inspire others.

“Workshops like these offer foundational knowledge about mental health, and the chance to seek help and healing,” said Mam-Legros, an artist known for blending philanthropy with art.

“The goal is to inspire the public to seek out psychologists when needed, and to reach out when they feel overwhelmed,” she said.

The shadows of Cambodia’s tumultuous past linger on, having deeply affected the nation’s psyche.

Often, cultural and societal pressures suppress conversations about emotional health. Compounding this is the limited mental health infrastructure, especially in more remote areas.

Adana emphasised the value of professional support, recalling her personal battle: “I experienced psychological challenges during my cancer journey, highlighting the crucial role of professionals in understanding and managing mental issues.”

Overcoming cancer at age 21, Adana’s foray into art began with a 2018 exhibition.

By 2021, she had co-hosted another exhibition, successfully raising $60,000 for local non-profits.

She also curated “I’ll Show You Who I Am”, an exhibit in line with an EU and DanchurchAid-backed women’s rights campaign.

Seeing the pressing need, Adana, backed by collaborators such as Baitong Warrior led by self-styled environment activist Tan Kimsour and actor Pen Chomrong, launched numerous conferences and workshops through their initiative, Generation C.

Addressing gender disparities in education and the workplace, Adana heads Generation C in both Cambodia and France. Her mission is to transform consumers into informed global citizens using the power of art.

Their previous efforts centred on conferences and expert sessions.

This year, however, marked a shift. In collaboration with the Centre for Trauma Care and Research Organisation (CTRO), they devoted a full day to arm the public with vital tools and insights for mental wellness.

As president of Generation C, where C signifies Conviviality and Consciousness, Adana is unwavering in her dedication to initiate both psychological and spiritual change in society.

Drawing upon her three years in psychoanalysis, psychotherapy courses and a seven-year meditation regimen, she advocates for fostering emotional intelligence and mental fortitude.

“I’ve chosen to share my own psychological journey with my fellow Cambodians. Mental health is as critical as politics or any societal issue. My goal is to shatter the stigma and societal pressure tied to seeking professional assistance. Seeking help isn’t a sign of weakness; it’s an act of bravery, a step towards finding the right solution,” expressed Adana.

Her story is not isolated. It resonates with countless people still reeling from a haunting past laden with genocide, wars and psychological torture. This traumatic history has not only shaped minds but also moulded behaviours and societal expectations.

Generational transmission of these emotional wounds has led to the emergence of conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety disorders, depression and substance abuse. A prevailing culture of silence, limited educational opportunities and challenges in parenting have only added layers to these issues.

“Our workshop is tailored to address the sensitivity of trauma. It aims to foster dialogue and endorse professional intervention,” Adana shared.

“CTRO-led activities introduce attendees to therapeutic methods, including art therapy, as powerful tools for expression and emotional liberation,” she added.

The event was hosted by actor Chomrong, who is known for his “dedication” to mental health awareness. His listening skills and influential personality made him an asset to the initiative. Alongside Adana, Kimsour, a prominent activist from Generation C and Baitong Warrior, played a key role in shaping this event.

Ean Nil, the director and founder of CTRO Cambodia, conveyed the organisation’s involvement in co-hosting the mental health-focused workshop.

“Our session is structured to delve into the nuances of mental health symptoms. More importantly, it offers insights on caring for those battling these challenges,” he told The Post.

“We’re providing tangible solutions to key mental health hurdles. Our afternoon segment will guide attendees on how to book psychological support sessions, mirroring the process one would follow for physical ailments, say, acne.”

The mental health landscape in Cambodia faced intensified challenges amid and following the Covid-19 crisis.

Nil noted that mental health issues largely revolve around depression and anxiety, increasingly prevalent among people.

Drawing attention to the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) findings, Nil stated that Cambodia’s depression and anxiety rates surpass three per cent.

These conditions are influenced by a mix of psychological factors, workplace stress, familial dynamics and individual wellness. The lack of emotional backing from close ones plays a pivotal role.

“People with robust emotional support from family often have a diminished risk of mental health issues, compared to those lacking this foundation,” Nil observed.

CTRO is firmly committed to delivering trauma care and therapy through its expert team. Beyond treatment, raising awareness on mental health and trauma stands central to their mission.

Nil expressed his gratification in joining forces with artists and influencers for this workshop, aiming for amplified public consciousness around mental health.

He encouraged the community to embrace open conversations on mental health issues and collectively muster the courage to access timely mental health services.

“The workshop aims to provide participants with a deep dive into mental health’s complexities. We want them to discern symptoms, understand what’s considered typical mental wellbeing, and realise when it’s time to seek professional help,” detailed Nil.

Attendees were steered by CTRO’s team of experts on the care and management of mental health issues. This holistic method requires dedicated time for a genuine grasp and effective tackling of these concerns.

An added distinction for the workshop was the involvement of well-respected monk Kou Sopheap, enriching the discourse with his insights.