Pyschologists and mental health experts said on Sunday that mental illness is curable, but there is a lack of understanding of it among Cambodians, causing them not to consult with experts.
The issue was raised at the Project Inspire Conference 2019 – under the theme of Mental Health and Wellbeing – held on Sunday at the Cambodia-Korea Cooperation Centre at the Royal University of Phnom Penh.
The gathering aims to inspire action regarding the emotional and mental wellbeing of youth in contemporary society.
Dr Muny Sothara, a psychologist and deputy head of general diseases at Preah Kossamak Hospital, said at the event that his hospital receives 30-50 mental health patients per day, while at the Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hospital it is up to 200-300 per day.
“Most of our youths do not seek treatment by themselves. Most of the people seeking treatment for this type of illness are adults who have many problems,” he said.
Sothara said the majority of people seeking help at his hospital did not know they had the disease and had only realised their mental health was unstable after consultation.
“First, they complain only about physical problems and, once we properly diagnose their condition, they realise that the problem is related to mental health."
“Knowledge of mental illness remains limited for the general population. They feel shy and discriminated against. This prevents them from seeking treatment. Even when they know they have a mental illness, they will not openly talk about it."
“I want to inform the public that mental illness is not terrible or incurable. Mental illness is curable,” he stressed.
Phan ChanPeou, the head of psychology at the Royal University of Phnom Penh, said people with mental health issues who try to hide it without seeking treatment will worsen their condition.
“With serious mental problems, patients seem to deem themselves hopeless and not value themselves. They start to lose trust in themselves and, finally, they think they cannot live anymore,” he said.
The Venerable Kou Sopheap, a professor at Pannasastra University of Cambodia, said: “To improve the mental condition, we need to have the consciousness to control the mind well.”
Twenty-year-old Serey Vicheka, a student at the Institute of Foreign Languages who attended the conference, said she had suffered mental health issues for some time but did not know where to get treatment.
“For the last few years, I know in myself that I have mental problems. I try to hide and my family does not really believe in mental illness as they are conservative."
“When I wanted to talk about mental illness with my family and tell them that I want to go for a health check-up, they strongly disagreed. But if I tell them I’ve got a physical disease or heart disease, they will let me. Therefore, I have to try and look for treatment by myself."
“Nowadays, I try to act like a rock. I don’t receive any stimulation or feel anything,” Vicheka said.