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Psychologists say the government needs to dedicate more resources toward creating dealing with mental health disorders that are often ignored in Vietnam


Many people in Hanoi are going to parks to attend free laughter yoga classes

Dinh Phuong Duy will never forget being obscenely insulted in public, in front of a large group of colleagues and experts.

"It was a meeting between a local newspaper and its readers to promote an interactive psychology column, and I was a guest," said Duy, chairman of the Ho Chi Minh City Psychology and Education Association. "A woman suddenly approached and swore at me. After a few minutes, I recognized that she was actually expressing anger over her own husband, not me."

The woman cursed about domestic violence and left. Later that day, she phoned Duy to apologize for her insults, which she admitted had actually given her great pleasure to dispense. "I would have become mad if I hadn't released my frustration over my husband somewhere," she said.

This happened in 1992 when there were no psychological consulting services in Vietnam. Duy said that the number of problematic mental health cases in the country has continuously increased since then, alongside an increase in economic development.

"Psychological problems are worsening and will become a pressing issue if there is no effective intervention," he said.

Duy and other psychologists are urging for better awareness of mental health issues among Vietnamese and more investment from the government in the field as it emerges as a real problem.

According to a recent survey by the Central Mental Hospital 1, around 12 million people in Vietnam have common mental disorders like stress or generalized anxiety disorder, equaling 15 percent of the country's 87 million people.

Some 20 percent of primary students and women within 18 months of giving birth suffer from mental disorders in one form or another, according to the national survey.

Worldwide, nearly 54 million people are affected with severe mental disorders like schizophrenia and bipolar affective disorder (manic-depressive illness), according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Duong Quang Trung, director of the Community Health and Development Institute, said Vietnam has focused on physical diseases rather than mental diseases because the former are easier to detect.

"Mental problems have increased together with social development and there has been insufficient investment from the government and a lack of awareness among the community of maintaining good mental health," he told Thanh Nien Weekly.

He said Vietnam has a proportion of less than one (0.8) mental health doctor per 100,000 residents, and they only intervene for treatment when imminently threatening mental disorders are detected.

He said the government's investment in mental health care, VND60 billion last year and VND70 billion this year, has been spent mostly on treatment rather than prevention.

"Patients are often unable to continue working and cannot cope with a rapid changing society afterwards, while preventive measures are facing difficulties," he said. "Many students have mental disorders and need timely treatment so that this doesn't cause them trouble in school."

Psychologist Duy said that mankind is witnessing a shift from infectious diseases and physical health problems to mental health problems in the 21st century.

In developing countries like Vietnam, mental health problems have affected many entrepreneurs due to the effects of intense competition and the negative impacts of the global economic meltdown.

"A significant proportion of entrepreneurs have healthy appearances alongside a variety of psychological problems," he told an audience of more than

100 entrepreneurs during a seminar on mental health care for entrepreneurs on October 8.

A survey by Vietnam Insight (Hon Viet) Applied Psychology Center, which jointly held the seminar with the HCMC Psychology and Education Association, found that an increasing number of entrepreneurs have contacted psychological consulting services.

The number of entrepreneurs using the center's psychological consulting services has increased continuously since 2006. Their problems include family and marital affairs, job related issues and teaching their children.

"Many people take negative actions to combat their mental problems, namely by drinking alcohol," said Nguyen Cong Vinh of the HCMC Psychology and Education Association. "But consulting with a psychologist will effectively solve their problem for positive results."

According to the Hon Viet survey, entrepreneurs often have problems including imbalance between work and family, failing to establish good relations with others, getting bored with their work and loss of enthusiasm.

A 35-year-old female entrepreneur who wished to remain anonymous said she quit a good job at a leading HCMC wood processing company to run her own business in 2006.

"I have experienced all difficulties in the first three years of running the company. I finally built a popular trademark," she said. "I have always tried my best but I'm tired whenever I come home. My husband always tortures me with his words criticizing me for focusing only on work and paying no attention to the family.

"I have no friends and often stay late at the office after work because I don't want to go home to suffer my husband's insulting words and I don't know where to go. I am suffering a serious problem. I don't know whether I was wrong when I chose to be an entrepreneur and lost my family's happiness in return."

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