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Burden of trauma higher among Cham

Panelists speak during a conference on the launching of a report on mental health in the Cham community at the Sunway Hotel Phnom Penh yesterday.
Panelists speak during a conference on the launching of a report on mental health in the Cham community at the Sunway Hotel Phnom Penh yesterday. Yesenia Amaro

Burden of trauma higher among Cham

There is a higher “unmet” need for mental health services among Cham survivors of the Khmer Rouge compared to Khmer Buddhist survivors, experts said yesterday.

Dr Sotheara Chhim, executive director of the Transcultural Psychosocial Organization (TPO), said the groups have similar mental health needs, but services have not reached as many Cham survivors as they have their Buddhists counterparts. Since 2016, TPO has been providing psychological services to the Cham community.

“Unmet [mental health] needs happen more among Muslims than in Buddhists,” he said on the sidelines of a conference yesterday on lingering Khmer Rouge trauma.

It is estimated that two in five Khmer Rouge survivors suffer from mental health problems. According to the closing order filed in Case 002 at the Khmer Rouge tribunal, as many as 36 percent of the entire Cham population was killed.
To treat trauma, TPO has led the Justice and Relief for Khmer Rouge Survivors Program for the last seven years.

In 2016 they began targeting eight Cham communities for services, though a lack of Cham, and Muslim, psychologists posed challenges.

“We really wanted to explore and concentrate on this group of people,” said Sylvia Johnson, international adviser for TPO.

In general, psychologists were not well trusted by the community, she said, but they became more open to working with counsellors after having a better understanding of what trauma is.

“It would be very difficult if you would ask them right away how they felt,” she said.

Whereas certain interventions may be appropriate for Buddhists, Chhim said, they might not be applicable for Cham people.

“This is probably the first step that we try to make the intervention more culturally appropriate for the Cham Muslim,” he said, adding that there are also Christian survivors of the Khmer Rouge to consider.

“The population of Muslims is more than the Christian [population], in terms of seeking our services, that’s why we don’t have an intervention service for the Christians yet,” he said. “But for a future project, we are thinking of . . . modifying [services] for different religions, like you see for Muslims now.”

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