After she was diagnosed with depression in 2016, Chharoat Chhaleta didn’t know how to seek help. She vomited often, couldn’t eat anything, and didn’t want to see anyone. Until she received treatment, she thought she would die. At the hospital, medics told her to slow down with her work and advised her how to deal with pressure.
“If my grandmother was conservative and didn’t take me to the hospital, I don’t know what would have happened,” Chhaleta, now 30, said. “When my parents knew about it, it was hard for them to accept after being told that their own daughter had a mental issue. People thought that they didn’t raise their daughter well, and that why their daughter had become a weak person.”
Chhaleta shared her deeply personal story on Curiosity, a podcast she launched in August. The 10 episodes released thus far explore sensitive issues including domestic violence, LGBT, arranged marriage, and mental health, encouraging young people to open up about their stories and seek help.
Popular in many countries, podcasts like Chhaleta’s are gaining traction, particularly among young listeners. Curiosity has received over 1,000 downloads since it began.
For the mental health episode, Chhaleta invited Yim Sotheary, a clinical psychologist, to be a guest on the show.
“I had similar feelings recently and I decided to take a break for a week. I felt I didn’t want to meet people and I cancelled meetings,” Sotheary told Chhaleta. “It’s okay to slow down and it is okay not to be okay,” she said, adding that youth face significant pressure from their peers, society, and social media.
That type of frank discussion can help remove some of the stigma surrounding mental health, explained Chhaleta. In a recent interview with Kiripost, she said she hoped the episode would encourage young people to open up about themselves and seek help if they are struggling with depression — something that has worsened for many amid the pandemic.
“People were not aware of what they had gone through before but after they listened to our podcast, they turned to look at their mental health status. We encourage people to ask for help from capable experts, who studied and were trained,” Chhaleta said, speaking from her tiny studio on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, which she borrowed from her younger brother.
“People are afraid to seek help, they don’t want to go to hospital and the way we approach it is that we just talk about the issues on the show like ordinary people. We want the audience to feel relaxed and that there is nothing to be afraid of, it’s a conversation,” she said.
Curiosity is just one of dozens of new podcasts aimed at a growing youth market. One of the up-and-coming producers is Curiosity’s parent company, 606 Digital, a media startup founded in 2019 by Theng Panha and Pen Voneat.
Panha directs podcasts from France, where she is studying for an MA in communications. This year, she was the media and communications winner at the Women of the Future Awards Southeast Asia, which aims to “strengthen the pipeline of female talent,” according to their website.
“When we published [Curiosity], we received feedback, a lot of people messaged and thanked us for talking about these issues. They asked us where they can seek help…. our podcast is the conversation with the expert…. young people have these issues but never talk about it, don’t know where to seek help,” Panha told Kiripost.
Panha said most podcasts target students and young professionals, who are likely to be digitally literate and relatively open about listening to and discussing problems.
“I think it is very important for youth to get involved in social impact projects or inspire others to make an impact in the community…Cambodia is a fast developing country and youth is the main part of that,” she said.