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Days after Adam Lanza shot up Sandy Hook Elementary School, gun control laws are once again the subject of hot debate. But what about mental-health policy? What if mental health care was as easy to get as, say, a gun? GlobalPost takes a trip around the globe to see how psychological issues are treated outside America. Here's a sampling of some of our best reporting on the subject from the last two years.
One of the worst mental health crises in Asia gets precious little attention and money.
“It sounds inhumane in some ways to people but, in a way, what other alternatives do the people have for somebody that’s having difficulties, screaming and running around and things like that? There’s not a treatment center for people like that,” he said.
Even when there is treatment, many Cambodians rarely seek it out, opting instead for temples and traditional healers.
“There’s a stigma in Cambodian society. If someone talks to a counselor or goes to a psychologist or psychiatrist, [then people say] ‘Oh he’s crazy, what’s wrong with him?’” said Sathya Pholy, a counselor at the Phnom Penh Counseling Center, a service run mostly by, and for, foreigners.
Apart from stigma there is also the fact that most Cambodians don’t see mental health through the prism of Western science. It’s a factor that cuts both ways, affecting both when and how Cambodians see themselves as sick and the effectiveness of treatments developed to deal with illnesses — from schizophrenia to depression — originally defined in a Western cultural context.
“[Cambodian culture’s conception of mental illness] goes back to animism and Buddhism and Hinduism, where most illnesses come from the unbalance of the wind, the soil, the fire and the water,” Sathya Pholy said.
“Also, if you offended the spirits of the mountains or of the trees, then the spirit will try to get you back, have revenge, make you sick.”
Amid such a grim situation, most of the burden of treatment falls on foreign-funded NGOs. Even the government, which aims to train 10 new psychiatrists every year, freely admits it relies on foreign funding.
The global recession, and the relative obscurity of mental health issues, means much of that money is drying up. Sotheara Chhim, who runs TPO’s local affiliate doing mobile outreach in Cambodia’s villages, said funding cuts from donors including the Dutch government forced him to fire 50 staff members late last year.
“I think mental health gets less attention, gets left behind in Cambodia,” he said with visible exasperation.
“There is no funding, I think, I don’t know why. The government has no funding and not many donors are interested in mental health.
“If I try to get funding from donors to provide mental health services, no one will give it.”