Depression symptoms are prevalent among adults in Cambodia as in many other countries, and not easy to identify as they usually appear as normal adolescent behavior. There are also many taboos about the concept of depression, which raises the question of why some people are more resilient and can bounce back from tough situations and move forward more easily than others. In an exclusive interview, Som Kanika speaks with Yim Sotheary, a psychotherapist and conflict and peace consultant about the taboos about depression and building resilience.
GT2: People usually ask why people in the post-war era are more vulnerable to depression than people who lived through the conflict during the Khmer Rouge regime. What is your perspective?
Yim Sotheary: This is such a generalised view because in different eras, people are faced with different challenges and struggles. We cannot assume that people in the past were less vulnerable to depression than people nowadays, as there are neither studies nor reports on the issues at that time. Although today’s depression cases seem to increase more among the youth, it is because people seem to be more open about their mental health issues. It is a good sign that people tend to be open and more expressive about what they have gone through. People in the post-war are more knowledgeable about mental issues than in the past. During the wartime or Khmer Rouge regime, regardless of the tragic events that people went through, they might not even have realised or understood what depression is or whether they had it or not, which could have contributed to the lower number of depression cases found during that time. When people do not understand much about their mental state or are aware of mental health issues, they cannot express and discuss it.
GT2: Why do people in the present, though equipped with advanced technology and materials, suffer from depression or other chronic mental diseases?
Yim Sotheary: Digital technology contributes to depression and chronic stress. The information that we receive is non-stop and most of the news is depressing and challenging which negatively affects our psychological wellbeing. Younger people tend to suffer more from the negative impact of digital technology because they are more exposed to social media activities and also tend to burn out from the overflowing information about happenings around the world. Depression and other mental illness are complex issues and do not only come from the use of technology but also from other contributing factors such as childhood traumatisation, domestic violence, bullying and the mental state from birth.
GT2: What makes a person more resilient than others? And what are the contributing factors that help them cope with tough experiences and handle their depression?
Yim Sotheary: There are various factors that shape people’s mental development and resilience, one of which is the family factor. This significantly contributes to the development strong minds. Children learn to think positively through examples set by parents and other family members. Their self-esteem grows and they can handle problems and stress better than others . Education also plays a big part because as mentioned before, people cannot voice out mentally troubling issues they face unless they are aware of them.
GT2: How do we build up resilience to mentally challenging situations?
Yim Sotheary: Resilience is a learned. We can acquire a resilient mindset through positive thinking. For instance, people who are more resilient tend to deal with tough situations in an optimistic way which helps them to find solutions and cope with issues instead of worsening matters. Being aware about your emotions also helps you to build more resilience.
People cannot strive forward unless they can accept their flaws after which they will be able to stop being negative about things. They will be able to put less pressure on themselves and can cope with problems they face.