Starting mental health services in Cambodia

Daya J. Somasundaram, Willem A.C.M. Van De Put, Maurice Eisenbruch, Joop T.V.M. De Jong

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Cambodia has undergone massive psychosocial trauma in the last few decades, but has had virtually no western-style mental health services. For the first time in Cambodia a number of mental health clinics in rural areas have been started. This experience is used to discuss the risks and opportunities in introducing these services in the present war-torn situation. Basic statistics from the clinics are presented in the context of the historical and traditional setting, and the effort to maintain a culturally informed approach is described. The contrasting results in the clinics are analyzed in relation to factors intrinsic to the health care system and those related to the local population in order to highlight the issues involved in establishing future mental health services, both locally in other provinces and in situations similar to Cambodia. The efficacy of introducing low-cost, basic mental health care is shown, and related to the need to find solutions for prevailing problems on the psychosocial level. They can be introduced with modest means, and can be complementary to local health beliefs and traditional healing. In introducing mental health services, an approach is needed which adapts to the absorption potential of the health system as well as to the patients' need to find meaningful help. Existing resources, from the traditional healing sector to rudimentary village structures, cannot be neglected in the rehabilitation of the community, or in interventions to help the individual patient.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1029-1046
Number of pages18
JournalSocial Science and Medicine
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 1999
Externally publishedYes


  • Cambodia
  • Community mental health
  • Mental health services
  • Transcultural psychiatry
  • Trauma

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