By Sophearith Dareth
Let me tell you a story. But it’s not about me; it’s about a distant relative of mine. I also have to warn you beforehand that this story won’t end happily.
You might be wondering why I am telling you this story with no happy ending, that also about someone who is not even close to me. Well, why don’t you read till the end to find out?
Disclaimer: I prefer not to reveal any real names in this story, for various reasons. Instead, I am going to give a new name to her: Anny. All other names have also been changed for privacy.
Anny’s parents got divorced when she was little and she has been living with her grandpa and aunt for more than 10 years now. She’s very close to her cousin Dolly, who is a young and intelligent girl and is very often praised by her own mom and grandpa for her academic performance. On the other hand, Anny was blamed because she was not as good as her cousin.
A few years ago, Anny became sick because she wasn’t taking care of her health. She didn’t eat much and drank a lot of unhealthy beverages especially those sweetened drinks. Eventually she became so sick that she couldn’t go to school, but she recovered on time to take her semester exam. She did fairly well on some subjects but terrible on others. Her marks were so low that her teacher came to tell her so. After her teacher finished talking, Anny just stepped out from behind her table, sat on the floor and just stayed there without talking.
From that moment on, Anny wasn’t her old self anymore. She began doing things people generally wouldn’t expect a normal person to do. She ran out of the house and tried to get out in the middle of the night. Her grandpa was so worried and distressed that he decided to lock her up in a room.
Her grandpa also sought professional help and got Anny on some medication. Unfortunately, nothing worked out. Now, her condition has worsened. I also have to mention that her mom also suffers from mental illness .
The reason why I am telling you this story is to remind you that your physical and mental health matters. Yes, it does matter more than that assignment you have to finish. It matters more than those piles of lessons that you have to somehow force in your head before the exam.
For many Cambodian youths, I don’t think mental health issues are included in conversations and I believe that more awareness should be raised about this topic. Here’s why.
When we think about people who suffer from mental illness, you might immediately think of those who are mentally unstable on the streets. This is a misconception. As stated in an article by the Phnom Penh Post, “there are other sides to mental illness that run silently deeper and are ominous”.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “one in four people in the world will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives”. Furthermore, there are currently 450 million around the globe who are suffering from mental disorders and nearly two-third of them seeks professional help. And one of the reasons is the stigma and discrimination that they face.
Another article by the Phnom Penh Post states that, the World Health Organization (WHO) has forecasted that by 2030, depression will be “the largest contributor to the burden of disease”. Furthermore, the risk of adolescents falling into the pit of mental illnesses is often overlooked. This is a significant risk for Cambodia as the majority of the population here falls under the age of 25 years. Young adults, predominantly those who are living in poverty, those who are vulnerable and marginalized, especially those who are LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) are more likely to be affected, and very often lack help and support.
The effects and consequences of mental disorders on people, particularly youths, are substantial and undeniably threatening. Unfortunately, many fail to realize this and continue to mistreat those who are suffering.
The World Health Organization states that 10–20% of children and adolescents worldwide are experiencing mental disorder and 50% of mental illnesses begin at the age 14. Furthermore they also said that:
Neuropsychiatric conditions are the leading cause of disability in young people in all regions. If untreated, these conditions severely influence children’s development, their educational attainments and their potential to live fulfilling and productive lives. Children with mental disorders face major challenges with stigma, isolation and discrimination, as well as lack of access to health care and education facilities, in violation of their fundamental human rights.
Now you have probably realized why I told you the story about Anny. First, more people need to realize the importance of raising awareness about mental health to reduce the stigma and discrimination of those who are suffering from mental illnesses.
And second, I want the people, and especially the youth who are deep in depression, anxiety or other disorders to know that it is totally fine to seek help. You might feel like there is no end to this dark tunnel that you’re walking in. But please be hopeful. One day, you’ll see the light at the end of it.
You might probably think, that it’s easy for you to say. Well, the truth is, I am also suffering from obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and anxiety. There is so much more that I want to say but I think this should be it for this blog.
See you in the next post. ❤
Views expressed here are those of the author’s and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of UNICEF.