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Mental health pilot project

Sometimes there are children who suffer terribly. They complain of chest pains, stomach aches, headaches, or they suffer from tiredness or anxiety. That's why their parents take them to one of our hospitals. But the tests and examinations are negative. There is no organic reason for the illness or discomfort - it is not the body that needs help. It's the psyche.


A pilot project, led by paediatrician Yung Socheata, has been running at our hospital in Phnom Penh since May 2023: "Our aim is to also respond to these children and help them." To do so, the 37-year-old collaborates with a team of external psychotherapists and psychiatrists. On Tuesdays and Fridays, the specialists are on site in the afternoon to work with the girls and boys. A separate room in the original Kantha Bopha hospital building is available for this purpose. There are crayons and paper, toys and stuffed animals. And, above all, plenty of time and peace and quiet for dialogue.

These therapy sessions aim to help children deal with emotional or social problems. In most cases, it’s a matter of dealing with trauma, overcoming anxiety, or detecting depression. In the first year, the team saw well over 300 children. "Twelve girls and boys were taken care of after attempting suicide," says Yung Socheata. There are always complex cases that require in-depth assessment to find the causes. For example, one child suffered from trichophagia, the pathological eating and swallowing of hair. Another had a bezoar, a mass of of partially digested or undigested material in the stomach. This phenomenon is often seen in patients with behavioural disorders.


The pilot project is wide-ranging. "For example, we also involve our oncological service to support affected children and their families during this difficult time," explains the doctor. Psychotic changes, autism, stress symptoms, care after a road accident or an amputation - the team assists where help is needed or refers the young patients to the right place.


It's gratifying for the doctors and nurses when a child leaves the hospital in good health. Regardless of whether it was the body or the mind that was affected. "But there are also cases that have already led to a chronic condition," explains Yung Socheata. These girls and boys return regularly for therapy sessions and receive long-term support. The project manager is proud and grateful to have achieved the first success with her work. The project will now be expanded.

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