According to psycologists working in Cambodia, their lack of peers withing the country is a problem that needs to be addressed. The experts believe that to further develop the country, psychology services should be integrated into many of the key sectors including health, social work, community, and education.
Dr. Muny Sothara, an expert in the field of psychology at Preah Kossamak Hospital and technical advisor at the TPO said, “In order to raise awareness of psychology [we should not] depend on the health ministry alone, but it needs intervention from relevant organizations.”
“The next step is to increase more human resources in the psychology field and raise the awareness of psychological illnesses alongside the awareness of physical illnesses,” he said.
Psychology lecturer at the Royal University of Phnom Penh (RUPP), Kao Sovandara told Youth Today that only around 1,000 students have successfully graduated with a Bachelor Degree of Psychology since 1994.
“We never limit the number of classes in each academic year,” said Mr. Sovandara. “Every year there are only two psychology classes. From what we know, the reason is because they do not understand what psychology is about.”
“Psychology is important sector in Cambodia because it is interconnected with many other sectors including health, education, and others,” he added.
In 2012, Mr. Sovandara led the Department of Psychology in a nationwide research project across nine provinces and one city. The research shows that many Cambodian people aged 21 years and older are experiencing mental illness.
He mentioned that social problems are the major factor leading to serious psychological illness among the country’s youth. He cited unemployment following graduation and relationships as examples problems that can often lead to depression.
Though the research finding is alarming, the focus on Psychology education is still small compared to other subjects such as Science, Engineering, and Business.
According to Mr. Sovandara, people experiencing psychological illnesses often have difficulty controlling their thoughts and feelings. This can contribute to insecurity in social situations, domestic violence, criminality and drug use.
Sovann Rotwatey, social work Masters candidate at Flinders University Australia and a former psychology student at RUPP, said that modern technology is also contributing to psychological illness among youth. She believes with the increase in modern social media, people are decreasing their participation in ‘real’ society and are instead spending a lot of time sitting alone in front of an electronic device.
“Addiction to social media can cause more social problems,” said Ms. Rotwatey.
“Some of the developed countries are already recognizing the addiction to social media as an illness, since some people have been studied not leaving their room and not talking to other people, [other than] Facebook or some other apps,” she added.
Mental illness can often be recognized by individuals themselves, for instance those who feel a high level of discomfort about something. To do so, they should first discuss their problems or concerns with someone who is not necessarily an expert, as a short-term method of relieving their stress.
Persistent problems; however, require professional help.
“Many people experience physical illness and psychological illness. When they have physical illness they have to consult with a doctor; psychological illness is the same too,” said Mr. Sovandara.
He added that psychological illnesses can’t be treated by merely taking pills. It requires counselling which will be different for each individual. Some minor cases can be addressed with a combination of counseling and strategies such as meditation. More serious conditions often require counseling combined with medicine.
“The root cause of psychological illness needs to be studied in each patient, in order to cure psychological illnesses or problems of lack of motivation.
Hence patients with this kind of illness cannot be forced to get treatment that they don’t want, because it can [adversely] affect their feelings,” he said.
Ken Sotheary, a junior student with the Department of Psychology understands that the root causes of social issues often stem from people struggling with personal issues.
She also feels that people who are affected by mental illness cannot contribute effectively to society; therefore, the country suffers in its development.
People who are concerned that they may be suffering from mental illness can access the counseling service at the Department of Psychology at RUPP, or through the Transcultural Psychological Organization (TPO) and also at Preah Kossamak Hospital.
Participants attending the 11th Great Family of Psychology.