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Mental Health in Vietnam

Depression. It sucks. I've said this enough times in my brain that I know it's true. It's one of those things that even though I know my thoughts don't necessarily represent reality all the time, it's still true. A mental truism. And as I've lived for nearly three years now in Vietnam with very little in the way of relief, I've struggled with my mental health. (You can read most of this blog to see evidence of that so I won't link to anything.)

I've struggled with depression, psychosis, and suicidal ideations. Twice I've considered institutional commitment and run up against the difficulties of finding mental health care in a country of nearly 100,000,000 people. When I first tried to hospitalize myself I went to five different hospitals, including the provincial mental health hospital, and was turned away. Subsequently, I found a foreign psychiatrist who telecommuted to Vietnam and who I can speak to if I need immediate psychiatric interventions. Even that, however, leaves me with few choices if things get really bad.

According to Family Medical Practice, the clinic through which I meet my psychiatrist, I have two options for institutionalization if I need it. One, I can spend $600 a night on their in-patient facility (a cost I would have to bear alone as most expat and local insurance doesn't cover any significant amounts for mental health services), or I can go to the provincial mental health hospital and apparently spend a couple of weeks in a locked room with half a dozen other patients given limited access to sanitation or actual health care beyond a daily med check.

Needless to say, this is not ideal.

And from what I can gather, this is essentially the only option for Vietnamese who are in need of institutionalization. This is in stark contrast to the mental health options in Thailand where I was offered the option of checking into a major hospital's psych ward if I needed to and where there exists private mental health hospitals and I've been told of instances where individuals who attempted suicide were hospitalized and monitored without difficulty.

Why, then, is mental health care in Vietnam so dismal?

I don't know. But thanks to Saigoneer (a local online English language news source), I ran across a music video in Vietnamese created in coordination with a youth mental health hotline. The music video is called "Mental Sound" and is in Vietnamese. It is essentially a description of depression, and what some of the symptoms and consequences of depression are and that it is okay to talk about despite what may be immense societal pressure to remain silent.

This music video is all about mental health in Vietnam, and an effort to reach out to the youth who have struggled over the last two years of the Covid Pandemic to find some route to normalization despite difficult circumstances. Isolated and economically impacted, forced to attend school through screens, and at risk of being unable to find decent jobs because employers devalue online learning, this pandemic generation faces potentially severe mental health repercussions from a global catastrophe.

The organization who apparently coordinated the music video is called the Ngay Mai Hotline, or the Tomorrow Hotline. It is manned five days a week to take calls from youth who are depressed or in need of a listening ear. I don't know the specifics about the personnel involved or much about the organization, but the website for the music video and information reaching out to young adults struggling with mental health in Vietnam is here. Below is the phone number and schedule for the hotline in Vietnamese.

Vietnam need to address the mental health of its citizens and to actually do something to educate the country about the devastating consequences of unrecognized and untreated mental illness. I know this is very much a problem as I spent eight years experiencing bipolar related hallucinations and delusions before I was finally hospitalized and medicated.

I'm not sure what I'm going to do about this. I'm still uncertain about my immigration status here, and I don't know how long I'll actually be here in Vietnam, but it is an issue that very seriously affects me and millions of others in a country that doesn't like to talk about mental health. For now, I wanted to share this information about mental health in Vietnam and possibly give someone a link to help when they need it.

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