Doctors say Vietnam has more mentally ill patients than reported

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 Patients at the National Psychiatric Hospital in Hanoi / PHOTO COURTESY OF TUOI TRE

It was reported at a recent conference that 15-20 percent of Vietnamese population have mental disorders, but doctors at a major psychiatric hospital say the rate is actually much higher in reality.

La Duc Cuong, head of the National Psychiatric Hospital, told Kham Pha (Discovery) Magazine Friday that the rate reported by his institution at a seminar in Ho Chi Minh City earlier this week was "modest."

Had the hospital been sufficiently funded, it would have been able to conduct a large-scale survey and the figure would have been higher, he said.

In Vietnam, many people suffer from psychiatric disorders, but their families fail their illness, as mental disorders come in a variety of different forms with a variety of symptoms such as anxiety, insomnia, and the abnormal expression of emotions, Cuong said.

For instance, Nguyen Thi Van, a patient at the Hanoi hospital, suffered mental problems for 20 years before her disorder was detected and diagnosed. 

Dr. Vuong Van Tinh said that after graduating from the University of Languages and International Studies, Van started showing signs of anti-social behavior such as refusing to communicate with people around her.

She later got married but after spending one night with her husband, she demanded a divorce.

When Van quit teaching and started reciting Buddhist scriptures, her family took her to the hospital for a check-up and discovered her illness.

On the other hand, despite knowing that their children are mentally ill, many families refuse to seek help for fear of social discrimination, Dr. Dang Thanh Vinh was quoted by the magazine as saying.

"They fear that their children will not be able to get married or find a job," he said.

Except when the patient is in serious and recognizable conditions, many families adopt self-treatment for them at home, so the reported prevalence of mental illness in Vietnam is still lower than in reality, according to Vinh.

Tinh said that the most common causes of psychiatric problems among Vietnamese are stresses related to work, life, domestic violence and dissatisfied sex lives.

Another cause is the impact of a slumping economy: farmers losing their land, workers losing jobs, and fresh graduates unable to find jobs, he said.

If illness is not detected early, it is difficult to treat the patient effectively, he said, adding that the situation affects the whole family.

When a person suffers a chronic mental disorder, 70 percent of members in his/her family are subject to stress disorders, worries and depression, he said. Not to mention economical problems, as they have to pay medical and other related expenses.

Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper quoted Dr. Nguyen Van Tho, dean of the Van Hien University Society and Humanities Department, as telling the recent seminar that psychotherapy is effective in improving the patient's physical and mental health.

But, in Vietnam, mental disorders are mainly treated with medication, he said.

According to Tho, psychotherapy is still underdeveloped and is not a subject offered by many local schools.

The seminar on psychotherapy was organized by Van Hien University in collaboration with the UK University of Worcester's Institute of Health and Society on Monday.

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