Mental health is a seemingly taboo subject in society. In Cambodia, within this month, there were two suicide cases among youths believed to be related to mental health issues. Even though the issue is too often brushed off, it remains a significant one and should be discussed more in society. Dr Ka Sunbaunat, a psychiatrist and former dean of the University of Medical Sciences talked with Som Kanika and Sok Srey Lux in an exclusive interview about the mental issues.
GT2: What are the common causes of mental health problems occurring among youth these days?
Dr Sunbaunat: From my experiences in this field, I can say that mental health problems can be linked to psychological, societal, biological or religious factors.
In Cambodia, religious beliefs play a significant role in shaping society but they also can cause mental problems. For example, I have had patients whose loved ones passed away and they couldn’t go to pagoda and perform funeral rites there as is the tradition. This causes them mental distress.
A psychiatrist needs to be open-minded when dealing with a patient and be aware religious and cultural backgrounds.
Mental illness can vary in many forms. There are some cases where mental problems are caused by drug addiction, post-traumatic stress and even through misinformation in social media. Patients often become delusional and panic.
GT2: How can social media produce a negative effect on youths’ mental health?
Dr Sunbaunat: About 90 percent of the content on social media is misinformation. Most of the contents are business-oriented and create a world of fantasy. When youths see such content on social media, they try to relive that fantasy and feel burdened or stress when they cannot achieve their expectations. They feel ashamed to interact with society.
Setting a high expectation is not wrong but it’s not right when people blame themselves for not being able to achieve that expectation.
GT2: How long does it take to treat people with mental illness?
Dr Sunbaunat: Treating people with mental issues requires an understanding about the degree of their affliction. If they begin to show a behavourial changes such as wanting to kill people, the condition requires years to treat. In order to fix the problem, we have to understand the root cause of the mental condition and how long the patient has had to cope with the issue. It might take around four to 10 years for the patient to start displaying such bevavioural changes and therefore it might take five years to fix it. There are several approaches to treat them. These include counselling sessions where a doctor listens to the problem and finds a solution to fix it or in some cases prescribing medication to mitigate the issue.
GT2: Can meditation mitigate mental illness?
Dr Sunbaunat: Meditation can help if the patient can focus on themselves but if they no longer distinguish who they are anymore, meditation might not be a big help. Therefore, the patient should seek more medical treatment and psychological consultation to alleviate the condition.
GT2: How do psychiatrists deal with listening to other people’s problems every day without becoming depressed?
Dr Sunbaunat: To be a professional psychiatrist or therapist, you need to have an open mindset and learn to distinguish clearly between emotions and obligations. Listening to the patient’s problem, the doctor needs to be mindful and be aware to not let the story of the patient affect our emotions. Another challenge is when the patient is too mentally ill and cannot even tell the true facts of the story. Then it is really hard to cure them when you can’t comprehend what the root cause of condition is.