Post-traumatic stress disorder is a mental health disease that arises from a severe reaction to unprocessed trauma. Among Cambodian immigrants living in the United States, where such statistics are available, it is estimated 62% of Cambodians suffer from PTSD and 51% suffer from depression. It can be assumed that the rates for Cambodia, where such statistics are not available, are equally high, if not higher. After all, in Cambodia there is the daily reminder of their trauma in shattered buildings and lives all around them.

Time alone does not heal all grief and pain. Trauma can be re-experienced many times throughout one’s life. The brain has many ways to protect us from immediate psychological and physical damage such as dissociation, avoidance and numbing, which can help us to cope with an unbearable moment of grief and pain in the short term. But if we do not deal with that damage it can lead to unhealthy long-term effects.

Many Cambodians who lived through the Pol Pot years did not have the chance to deal with their trauma. They repeatedly had to face life shattering events, and even today many continue to face new and equally damaging experiences. Without a safe place to integrate their feelings of fear and pain and without support from people who were not traumatized, these Cambodians do not have an opportunity to heal.

In Cambodian society, daily life remains full of triggers. Every frightening personal or social situation may wake the “sleeping dogs” of trauma. This could be the unstable political situation, the insensitive statements of Cambodian leaders, or personal experiences related to corruption, land grabbing, landmines, rape, domestic violence, unprofessional and unjust courts and many more societal problems. As long as life in Cambodia continues to lack real security and reliability, every single moment can trigger memories of old traumatic experiences and feelings.

At times a trigger such as an event or person or sensation reminds a person of some aspect of their trauma and suppressed and unhealed emotions can erupt in very problematic ways. The evidence of this is felt in anger, domestic violence, child rape and criminal activities. Many who suffer from anxiety, detachment, nightmares, addictions and even severe mental health issues like PTSD are living in a culture of silence in which there is little inner peace in the hearts of individuals, and little communication between people. This leads to strained relationships between couples and families, as well as among people in villages, and towns.