Cambodian Province Plans Campaign for Monks to Care for Mentally Ill

2015-04-20
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Cambodian mental health patients wait to see a doctor at a hospital in Phnom Penh in a file photo.
Cambodian mental health patients wait to see a doctor at a hospital in Phnom Penh in a file photo.
AFP

Government authorities in a southwest Cambodian province are planning a coordinated campaign to round up residents suffering from mental illness and take them to Buddhist temples where they will be cared for by monks, a provincial official said.

Lay Vannak, government of Takeo Province, said he would discuss the plan with the monks.

“I will discuss with provincial chief monks to have monks round up people suffering from mental illness who are walking on public streets and those who have psychiatric breakdowns to have them meditate and educate them so that they will feel calm,” he said.

Lay Vannak said the campaign would free the province from mentally ill people and provide “beauty and order.”

Some residents of the province do not oppose the plan, believing that it will provide some help for the mentally ill.

Saing Keav, a 50-year-old villager expressed concern over women with mental health issues becoming crime victims. He told RFA that he noticed one such woman who had children and always walked passing his house, but no one provided her with any health care.

“I am afraid that drug addicted people will rape her,” he said.

But health expert Mony Sotara said authorities should first allow health professionals to help mentally ill patients before confining them inside pagodas.

He said it was important to provide the mentally ill with psychiatric care, because monks cannot help them when they need medication.

The move comes more than two months after a mob brutally beat to death a mentally ill man and burned his body in Kampong Speu province, which borders Takeo to the northwest.

On February 5, a mob of villagers in Trapaing Kong commune’s Srae Ombel village attacked 27-year-old Noun Puttrea, a suspected thief, according to an article in The Phnom Penh Post.

Police arrested three men the next day after finding them in hiding in the village, although 20 other mob members who had been identified had fled the area, the article said.

Puttrea , who lived in Kandal province, which borders Takeo to the west, had been missing for more than a month at the time of his death, it said.

Risk factors

Cambodia is country that contains significant risk factors for poor mental health, including post traumatic stress disorder, due in part to its traumatic history of  war and the lasting effects of the brutal Khmer Rouge regime from 1975 to 1979 during which nearly 2 million people were starved, tortured and murdered.

A survey conducted by the Royal University of Phnom Penh in 2012 estimated that the country’s suicide rate was 42.35 per 100,000 people in 2011, compared to a worldwide average of 16, according to an article on the AsiaLIFE website. Anxiety and depression were also measured at well above average.

Furthermore, there is a stigma against mental illness in Cambodia, where most people put more faith in temples and traditional healers rather than scarce and expensive clinical treatment.

Those suffering from mental illnesses in impoverished villages usually live in squalor and are physically confined and hidden away from the public, where they receive no treatment.

Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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