Why Cambodians Never Get 'Depressed'

Posted on February 3, 2015

Photo: flickr

Mental distress is a universal condition. The World Health Organization has made global access to mental health care one of its key goals.

But just as words for depression and anxiety get lost in translation, so can treatments.

Culture affects how people understand and express mental disorders. So psychiatrists around the world are working to figure out what these differences are and develop treatments that work for each culture.

Take for instance khyal attacks, or "wind attacks." Cambodians who suffer from anxiety disorders often experience the quick onset of heart palpitations, blurry vision and shortness of breath. Like panic attacks, khyal attacks can happen without warning.

For Cambodians who survived the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime in the 1970s, khyal attacks often occur with flashbacks to traumatic events, bouts of dizziness and trouble sleeping. "There are many terms [in the Khmer language] that suggest that anxiety is like dizziness," Hinton says. "Patients will say 'I'm spinning in the heart.' "

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Category(s):Depression, Mental Health in Asia

Source material from NPR