Cambodia, Misery Just below the Surface

With renewed understanding in the U.S. that one of the costs of war is enduring psychological damage not only to those who were in the theaters of war but to the families, first separated and then re-combined in combustible ways, one wonders about all those who have been so traumatized, not just Americans.

Cambodia Mental Illness

On a trip through Cambodia several years ago we were struck by the lack of everyday manifestation of war injuries.  It turns out, however, there is plenty — and as a poor country, not much help.

In 2012, in a first attempt to define the scope of Cambodia’s mental health crisis, the Royal University of Phnom Penh interviewed 2,600 people. More than 27 percent showed acute anxiety, and 16.7 percent suffered from depression.


The study estimated the suicide rate at 42.35 per 100,000 people. That would put Cambodia second only to Greenland in incidence of suicides.

Anxiety, depression, PTSD and suicide are estimated to be even higher among survivors of the Khmer Rouge — communist fanatics who took control over the country in 1975. More than 1.7 people, about one-fourth of the population, perished during their four-year rule.

The atrocities were appalling. Children saw their parents gutted, babies were smashed against trees and rice paddies became mass graves. Despite widespread hunger, simple suspicion of stealing food was punished by death.

While 2.7 percent of the overall population suffers from PTSD, the prevalence among survivors is 11.4 percent. Thirty percent of survivors suffer from depression and 36.8 from anxiety, according to a 2010 study by the Berlin Centre for the Treatment of Torture Victims. 

“When the participants were asked whether they seek help from professional mental health providers, 85.4 percent answered no,” the study found.

The country’s mental health burden also affects subsequent generations who did not have to live through the terror of the Khmer Rouge.



Studies found that children of mentally ill parents are more likely to develop syndromes as well.

Global Post and Asia Life

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