The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has not only forced countries around the globe into unstable social and economic conditions but has also become a major source of psychological distress on people’s mental wellbeing.
As communities are faced with uncertainty and the unknown, people are more prone to suffer from distress and anxiety in many areas of their lives, including over unemployment and loss of income, limited freedoms, lack of physical contact with family members in addition to the fear of contracting and spreading the virus.
To make matters worse, according to a recent WHO report, the pandemic has disrupted or halted critical mental health services in some 93 percent of countries worldwide, at a time when the need for those services is crucially important.
In Cambodia, it’s estimated that about 40 percent of its citizens suffer from some form of mental health or psychological issues. For instance, various studies have reported high levels of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in the Kingdom, with the suicide rate being considerably higher than the global average.
Therefore, the Transcultural Psychological Organisation (TPO), Cambodia’s leading NGO in the field of mental health care and psychosocial support, in cooperation with Smart Axiata, the leading telecommunication service provider, and other partners have initiated a new project to address mental health on vulnerable communities in Banteay Meanchey.
Using funding from Smart Axiata’s $1 Million COVID-19 Relief Fund, TPO has been providing free mental health counselling to migrant workers as well as offering training on psychological first aid to staff working in quarantine facilities and members of the commune council for women and children.
“During this difficult time, many Cambodian migrant workers have lost their jobs and found themselves back in Cambodia with many other unemployed people,” said Taing Sopheap, TPO Program Coordinator. “They are also facing discrimination from people in their community, who think they are bringing the virus back with them.
Sopheap said that this combination of factors, along with ongoing financial burdens and the pandemic, are taking a toll on their mental health, which without much-needed assistance, could lead to depression, domestic violence and suicide.
“Fortunately, through Smart Axiata’s relief fund, the TPO has been able to provide counselling – free of charge – through hotlines, as well as train local people and officials from those communities to identify people suffering from poor mental health and help them access TPO services,” Sopheap said.
“We are focusing on people who exhibit early signs of having mental health problems, with signs of stress and anxiety,” Sopheap added. “For those who are in serious condition, we will provide them with treatment through psychiatric treatment.”
Sopheap said working with Smart Axiata’s has meant a big increase in the amount of people able to access their services, which in turn has improved mental health in the region, reducing the chance of depression, domestic violence and suicide.
“Smart’s contribution is not only crucial for the Cambodian people’s wellbeing but also Cambodian society as a whole as the company, through its relief fund, has also provided support and assisted many people in a number of areas via NGOs and other institutions during this difficult time,” Sopheap said. “It is a great example of private sector role in creating positive impact to communities where they operate in.”
CEO of Smart Axiata, Thomas Hundt said the partnership with TPO has been able to offer psychological first aid services and training to these remote communities who are especially vulnerable to pandemic-induced stress and anxiety.
“The coronavirus pandemic’s economic effects have real repercussions on people’s lives and livelihoods. For vulnerable communities, this source of instability has heightened psychosocial distress, which can have dire consequences,” he adds.
“Over the last few months, the $1 Million COVID-19 Relief Fund has brought high-impact solutions through strong partnerships to communities across Cambodia. I believe that we will get through this and rise together as a nation.”