Connection Sits at the Heart of Mental Health

Founder of Cambodia Coaching Institute, Joey Sae Hoon Ra, made a passionate 20-minute talk about trauma, disconnection and mental health at Sunday’s TEDxRUPP event.
Founder of Cambodia Coaching Institute, Joey Sae Hoon Ra. Kiripost/Siv Channa
Founder of Cambodia Coaching Institute, Joey Sae Hoon Ra. Kiripost/Siv Channa
“If trauma and disconnection is the root of mental disease, then connection is the cure.”

Joey Sae Hoon Ra made the argument when talking on stage at TEDxRUPP on Sunday.​​ Joey is the founder and head of faculty at Cambodia Coaching Institute.

He started his 20-minute talk saying, “Let me share with you a metaphor that when you do not drink enough water and you get a headache, we make a mistake when we think that the headache is the real problem.”

Joey emphasized the headache is actually the initial voice in the head; a headache is a way of letting us know that we might need to drink water. This can be applied to mental health. Instead of encouraging people to drink water, he said we are training people to diagnose headaches with illness and then prescribing.

Joey Sae Hoon Ra speaking on stage at TEDxRUPP. Kiripost/Siv Channa
Joey Sae Hoon Ra speaking on stage at TEDxRUPP. Kiripost/Siv Channa

“You know that if you don't drink enough water, you get dehydrated. And when you're dehydrated, you get a headache. We know that panadol gets rid of the headache and this is good. We don't necessarily want people to suffer pain. But the headache is not the real problem,” said the prolific public speaker to the attentive audience of 500.

Connection at the heart of mental health

“Depression is not an illness and is real but a symptom. Nowadays depression sounds shocking, however, it is ready to occur for everyone,” Joey said.

Only 0.2 percent of the mental health budget is spent on mental health support. Currently, there are fewer than 120 psychiatrists and psychologists with a master's degree operating, and much fewer practicing seeing clients. 

There is poor awareness of mental health at all levels of society, government, the public, and even among those working in mental health.

Despite growing interest in mental health in recent times, the majority of the dialogue in projects around the issue is usually limited to small and outdated views coming from traditional Western medicine, which focuses on diagnosis of illnesses based on symptoms and then treatment and depression of those symptoms.

The harmful impact of this approach can most obviously be seen in the depression and antidepressant epidemic in America, where between 15 and 20 percent of Americans are on antidepressants. Yet, depression rates are on the rise and all signs show that the same pattern is being received here in Cambodia.

The root of the level of mental unhealth is trauma, and trauma is disconnection. A doctor and a worldwide expert on trauma wrote that trauma is the inevitable force that shapes our lives. It shapes the way we live, the way we love, and the way we go.

A good metaphor for trauma is a deep psychic wound. Imagine you have a deep cut on your hand and after some time it has healed. But years later we still touch it and we are so sensitive that it still hurts. Similarly, our trauma results in us reacting in the present, the harm is similar to a result of what happened in the past.

“Trauma is even what happens inside of you and because of this, it continues to impact our lives today, impacting how we relate to ourselves, others, and the world around us,” Joey said.

“Trauma is a disconnection from oneself or the interpersonal disconnection from the world around us. This disconnection results in the symptoms that we're diagnosing as mental health issues. But when we disconnect from that, we lose our ability and so the trauma remains,” he added that due to trauma, we become disconnected from our emotions, our bodies, our natural healing abilities, and ability to self-regulate our emotions.

This disconnection from nature is responsible for the ecological problems we see today, such as massive fishing and climate change. Trauma disconnection on all these levels further perpetuates mental health problems.

The way that society is now run is based on a disconnection, such as the economy and education system. They do not honor humanity or value money; everything reduces connection and community and social media.

Trauma is the root of mental illness and trauma is a disconnection, instead of just focusing on values and treating symptoms people need to go to the root and do things in a connected way.

The speaker boldly stated, “If trauma is at the root of mental disease and trauma is disconnection, then the connection is the cure. Rather than focusing solely on diagnosis and treatment of symptoms, which is important, we should tackle things also at the root cause level and connection.”

He explained calmly,

“Mental health and trauma is the biggest lever the country has used to unlock the potential for transformation. We need to change the way we manage our mental health. Currently, we talk about people who suffer from mental health.

“This is one way you can foster more connections in your life. We need to connect at all levels, connect with yourself, connect with your body, connect with your emotions, connect with the positive that you express, build authentic and vulnerable relationships, and connect with nature and find a sense of meaning in your life.”

He urged the audience to put a stop to categorizing mental illnesses as it makes us feel distant from ourselves.

Joey concluded, “Now, realizing just how important connection is in our lives, let's stop this labeling approach to mental disorders which actually separates us from ourselves. The world is in crisis with mental health and demand, climate crisis, impending war, and imploding financial system, and the opportunity also has never been greater with the resources that we have today.”