Vietnam lacks depression awareness: WHO

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Depression is common among Vietnamese mothers and children but the problem is mostly "ignored", a World Health Organization (WHO) expert said.

Recent surveys showed that mental disorders in children, in pregnant women and the mothers of newborns were about 20 30 percent, Dr. Jean-Marc Olivé, WHO Representative for Vietnam told Thanh Nien Weekly.

Most of these cases were depression, he said.

A national survey conducted by the National Mental Hospital in 2000 found that 15 percent of patients in Vietnam were found with the ten most common mental diseases.

But Olivé said depression was being ignored in Vietnam. The National Target Program for mental health was ratified in 1999-2000 and a model of community-based mental health care was developed but attention has only paid to the two most dangerous diseases schizophrenia and epilepsy, he said.

The WHO last year helped the Vietnam Ministry of Health revise the model to cover all common mental disorders, including depression, and is now supporting the application of the revised model this year.

The organization has also successfully encouraged the Vietnam Ministry of Labor, War Invalids and Social Affairs to provide more social support for mental health care, mainly in community-based projects.

Olivé said mental diseases and depression were a burning health problem in the world as well as in Vietnam.

The WHO in May 2007 estimated there were nearly 54 million people around the world with severe mental disorders such as schizophrenia and bipolar affective disorder (manic-depressive illness) and another 154 million suffering from depression.

Persistent poverty and natural disasters are some factors that explain the increasing prevalence of mental disorders in developing countries, the WHO representative said.

The rates of patients in developing countries are two to three times higher than in high-income countries, according to new research conducted by Vietnamese and foreign experts.

A recent study conducted by Vietnamese and foreign experts found mental disorders contributed to maternal mortality and morbidity in Vietnam. An investigation of 796 pregnancy-related deaths in seven provinces attributed up to 16.9 percent to suicide.

The study found "prevalence [of diseases] was highest in the poorest rural provinces, with problematic "˜community behaviors towards women' and limited health services." The WHO said inadequate healthcare was a cause of depression for many in Vietnam.

Psychiatric illness and exposure to family violence were not assessed in the study.

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