As Koh Pich Death Toll Rises, Some Receive Psychological Treatment

Another victim of last week’s Phnom Penh stampede has succumbed to his injuries, bringing the total number of dead to 352, officials said yesterday.

And as the death toll continued to rise 10 days on, members of the French Red Cross and their Cambodian counterparts worked to tackle the emotional aftermath of the disaster, offering psychological support to those who remain bed-bound in Phnom Penh’s hospitals.

Nhim Vanda, first vice chairman of the National Committee for Disaster Management, said yesterday that he had received information from Calmette Hospital that 22-year-old Saing Sokha died late Wednesday of internal injuries.

“He died at [9:20 pm] at Calmette Hospital,” Mr Vanda said. “He is from Kandal province.”

A doctor at Calmette, who did not wish to be named because he was not authorized to speak to the media, said Mr Sokha, of Khsach Kandal district, died as a result of injuries to his kidneys sustained during the crush.

Mr Vanda said that are 22 patients being treated at Calmette for serious internal injuries sustained in the stampede. Phnom Penh’s five hospitals are currently tending to 258 patients, he said.

Yesterday, eight of those patients at Preah Kossamak Hospital chose to talk about their experiences with members of the French Red Cross, said Kleio Iakovidou, coordinator project psychologist for the organization.

“From the first day, we have had a team of three people at each of the main hospitals, and we try to help with psychological difficulties,” she said.

“We want to minimize the risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder in the future.”

In a country with high levels of untreated trauma, thanks to a legacy of years of war and limited mental health services, programs such as this are particularly important, says Richard Jefferson, a counselor at the Phnom Penh Counselling Centre.

“Undiagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder and trauma are massive here,” he said. “Wars were still being fought in the 1990s, so you have people in their 20s who still remember being bombed and shot at.”

The results, he said, can be toxic.

“It can result in gambling, drinking, violence, acid attacks, depression, suicide. Trauma comes out in all sorts of ways.”

For one patient, the benefits of talking through her experience with psychologists at Preah Kossamak were clear.

“Before I don’t get [psychological] treatment, I feel very depressed. My chest was under pressure and was hard to breathe, and I get headaches while thinking of this event,” Nguon Sopheak, 20, said. “After I get this treatment, I feel a bit better.”

Ms Sopheak, of Kompong Cham province’s Prey Chhor district, said she would encourage other victims to accept the offer of psychological treatment.

“We cannot hide our bad feeling,” she said. “If we try to hide our [trauma], we will feel more depressed and sorrowful.”


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