The Cambodian Khmer Rouge Child Survivor and Effective Mental Health Treatments

Stephanie Hiromi Yamada-Mitsuuchi 1, Tara Rava Zolnikov 2 3 *

AM J QUALITATIVE RES, Volume 6, Issue 1, pp. 123-138

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During the Khmer Rouge period (1975-1979), an estimated 1.7 million people died from executions, starvation, or disease; children older than age seven were separated from their parents and suffered from a myriad of traumas, likely resulting in various adverse childhood experiences.  This research was to identify the effects of trauma on the Khmer Rouge child survivor, and to assess the effectiveness of mental health treatment. A qualitative phenomenological study using 20 semi-structured interviews of Khmer Rouge child survivors who immigrated to the U.S. and received mental health services. Most survivors appeared to have a secured attachment/relationship to an adult figure and had goals or an optimistic view which helped improve outcomes; most survivors experienced improved psychosocial outcomes after receiving mental health services.  Participants recognized the link between mental health and physical health, while also reporting that they needed to help themselves get better in order to help their children. They reported using Dharma talk, mindfulness meditation, and mindfulness breathing to cope and manage their symptoms. These results could be transferable to other Cambodian child survivors, and other survivors of worldwide atrocities providing preventative and integrated care resulting in improved physical and mental health for this population.

Keywords: Khmer Rouge, child, mental health treatments, conflict, health, treatment.