Socially Isolated Cambodians in the US

Recommendations for Health Promotion

  • S. Megan Berthold University of ConnecticutSchool of Social Work
  • Sengly Kong
  • Jason Ostrander
  • Seiya Fukuda
Keywords: Cambodian, genocide, social isolation, community leaders, community-based health promotion


Community organizations in the United States are severely challenged to serve Cambodian refugees who experience health disparities associated with their traumatic experiences. Community leaders have identified a sub-set of community members of particular concern: those at either end of the age spectrum (elders and young people) who are socially isolated. As part of a larger community-based participatory research project, we conducted a focus group with seven Cambodian community leaders from six cities. The study sought to better understand the phenomenon of social isolation of Cambodian elders and young people in order to inform health promotion efforts. Cambodian leaders expressed keen concern for those community members who rarely seem to leave their homes or interact with the Cambodian community. Prominent themes identified by leaders related to isolation were: a generational pattern; benefits of extended family; health concerns; cultural influences and language; impact of stigma; fear and safety concerns; and lack of sufficient resources. In addition, leaders identified several possible solutions to address the phenomenon of social isolation in their communities. Health promotion efforts with this population should identify isolated individuals and enhance their social connectedness and support networks as part of a larger integrated effort.


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