Distinguished Cambodian psychiatrist Dr Chhim Sotheara is tackling one of the world’s highest national rates of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), right at home in his own country.
An Australia Awards alumnus, Dr Chhim is Executive Director of Cambodia’s Transcultural Psychosocial Organisation (TPO Cambodia), a non-government mental health association that provides psychosocial and mental health care for traumatised Cambodians at grass-roots level.
Dr Chhin believes that TPO Cambodia’s work transcends focusing only on the mental health of Cambodians. “My organisation has to be working in the fields of human rights, justice, gender-based violence and community development. There are so many challenges we are facing”.
New York’s Leitner Center for International law and Justice honoured him with its Annual Human Rights Award in 2012
for his extraordinary work in helping to heal the psychological damage many Cambodians suffer as a result of their recent history.
He leads a team of around 50 local mental health professionals at TPO Cambodia. The organisation says that due to the past war, and rapid economic and social change in the post-conflict period, around 40 per cent of Cambodians suffer mental health problems.
Dr Chhim, who grew up during the time of the Khmer Rouge, is one of Cambodia’s first ten psychiatrists. He chose to specialise in psychiatry when he witnessed first-hand the shocking mental effects of war on his country’s people.
In 2008, Dr Chhim received an Australian Leadership Award which enabled him to undertake further medical studies in Australia where he gained a Masters of Psychological Medicine at the University of New South Wales. In 2014, he completed a PhD at Monash University in Victoria in which he examined the uniquely Cambodian trauma syndrome of baksbat, or “broken courage”.
His PhD research has led to the development of the practice of “Testimonial Theory”, a culturally-sensitive trauma treatment approach which has been adopted by the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, a special Cambodian court which receives international assistance through the United Nations Assistance to the Khmer Rouge Trials (UNAKRT).
This year's Human Rights Day on 10 December launched a year-long campaign for the 50th anniversary of the two United Nations International Covenants on Human Rights: the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.