What is mental health?
Mental health refers to your emotional, psychological, and social well-being, and is the foundation of effective function for individuals. It is about how people think, feel, and behave. According to the World Health Organization, mental health is 'a state of well-being in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community'. Mental health is a state of balance, both within and with one's environment, thus it cannot be separated from physical health.
COVID-19 impact on mental health
Vietnam has been going through series of lockdowns across the country due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is undoubtedly an unusually stressful period for everyone. A pandemic impact survey in Vietnam of almost 70,000 people found that 62% reported losing their jobs due to COVID-19. Job losses, reduced working hours, online home schooling, stress over food and medical supplies, long periods of social isolation from friends and family members, endless zoom meetings, all can have an impact on mental health. It is no wonder that the New York Times reported that many people have experienced a panic attack for the first time during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mental health in Vietnam is more important than ever, and it is always a conversation worth having.
Keeping up your mental well-being
As conversations about mental health become more open and commonplace, there is more clarity between mental health wellness and mental disorders. Having 'good' mental health is more than not having a mental health disorder, it is also about 'wellness' - feeling good and functioning well.
Just like having good physical health requires effort, having good mental health is also something you can work on.
Strategies to build up good physical health include:
- Keeping an exercise routine
- Having a positive outlook
- Getting enough sleep
- Lending a helping hand to other people
- Socialising with people who give you energy and joy
- Developing helpful coping mechanisms to deal with stress such as keeping a feelings journal, meditating, understanding your triggers, etc.
- Willingness to seek professional help if you need it!
Helpful mobile apps and websites
Working on your own mental health takes time and effort, here are some tools that you can use to support your wellbeing or unload your burden:
- Calm (meditation app)
- Headspace (meditation app)
- Intellect (self-care app & skill-building programs)
- Sleep cycle (sleep health app)
- WoeBot (chatbot therapy app)
- Vorvida (cognitive-based therapy website to reduce dependency on alcohol)
Mental health in Vietnam
While the mental health system in Vietnam compared to other countries is still developing, the government and people are becoming more aware of its importance and of necessary mental health care services . In 2019, the Viet Nam National Institute of Mental Health in Hanoi noted that mental disorders related to stress have increased in recent years. According to the Ministry of Health and UNICEF, mental health disorders affects 15% of Vietnam’s 95 million people, especially children and youth. The rate of suicide in 2015 was 5.87 per 100 000 population.
In Vietnam, mental health issues are sometimes seen as shameful or a burden, which prevents individuals from seeking help or talking about it for fear of judgement. The cultural stigma is seen in the Vietnamese word for psychiatrist is 'bac si tam than' or 'doctor who treats madness'. The World Health Organization surveyed the country in 2014 and found that only 0.91 psychiatrists were available per 100,000 people.
At present, the status of Vietnam's mental health care system is improving. There has been efforts in mental health legislation and mental health policy to treat both severe mental disorders and more common issues. Currently, the World Health Organization Viet Nam supports the government in developing a model of integration of mental health into general health focusing on primary care.
Common mental disorders in Vietnam
The three most well-known mental disorders in Vietnam are substance use disorders, depression, and anxiety. Here is a list of common mental health problems:
- Alcohol/ substance use: Both legal and illegal drugs have chemicals that can change how your body and mind work. Some people use them for a pleasurable high, to lower stress, or to avoid avoid problems. Abuse happens when one use the substances too much or in the wrong way.
- Depression: Depression is a persistent feeling of sadness and lack of interest in life that can lead to emotional and physical problems and can stop one from doing normal daily activities. Depression characteristics range from relatively minor, and in severe cases can lead to suicide.
- Anxiety: Those with anxiety disorders frequently have intense, excessive and persistent worry and fear about everyday situations. This can manifest itself in sudden spikes of intense worry or terror, resulting in panic attacks, or can interfere with daily life.
- Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): PTSD is caused by witnessing or experiencing a very distressing event. Someone with PTSD often relives the traumatic event through nightmares and flashbacks, and may experience feelings of isolation, irritability and guilt. This can have a negative impact on their normal lives.
- Bipolar affective disorder: This is a mental disorder that affects your moods, which can swing from one extreme to another, typically episodes of depression and mania. The high and low are often so extreme that they interfere with everyday life.
Where to seek medical help in Vietnam
In Vietnam, the national mental health network facilitates outpatient treatment and inpatient programs for psychiatric care. There are 36 mental health hospitals across the country and there are 6,000 bed available for patients in severe conditions. Currently, Vietnam has 600 outpatient mental health care facilities available for Vietnamese citizens who are looking for short-term care. In the south, the government hospitals for mental disorder care include HCMC Mental Hospital and the Bien How National Psychiatric Hospital II.
For foreigners in Vietnam, the following hospitals/ clinic offer medical help for mental health care:
- Columbia Asia Hospital (children and adults)
- FV Hospital
- Family Medical Practice
- Raffles Medical Viet Nam
- Victoria Health care
If helpful, your doctor can also refer you to reputable therapists to continue your treatments. Or find one at the International Center for Cognitive Development. A list of resources compiled by Gãy, an art collective in Ho Chi Minh City is available here.
Ho Chi Minh City is also launching a mental health care programme, to help with the impact of COVID-19, called 'vaccine for the mind' to improve overall mental health, help with counselling and therapy, and post-Covid rehabilitation.
Take care of yourself ♥️
Mental health is complex. Just because someone is not experiencing a diagnosable condition might not mean that their wellbeing is flourishing. It is also possible to seek medical care for a mental issue while feeling great in many aspects of life. We hope this article is helpful in bettering your own mental health and do not be ashamed to seek help if necessary. Here are more helpful resources and guides to help navigate life in Vietnam during this uncertain period.