Generation depressed

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An alarming trend of Vietnamese teenagers committing suicide for seemingly insignificant reasons has experts blaming schools and families

Students pray at the Temple of Literature, Vietnam's first national university founded in the 11th century, in Hanoi, believing it will bring them good luck during the exam period. Experts blame the pressures of school and a lack of attention from families, teachers and administrators for suicides among teenagers. PHOTO: AFP

Sixteen-year-old Phu Thi Duyen killed herself by jumping into the Dak Bla River on May 14 due to the pressure her parents put on her to earn good marks.

The local high school student from Kon Tum Province wrote in her suicide note that she had no choice because studying made her suffer.

Reports of similar cases have become commonplace in the local media recently.

The Khanh Hoa Department of Education and Training recently ordered Le Quy Don High School to apologize a tenth-grader who tried to kill herself after administrators wrongfully expelled her on false accusations that she had stolen her friend's clothes.

The school management will also have to publicly announce that the boarding schoolgirl, identified only as T., had mistakenly worn a friend's uniform.

Notably, the actions were taken only after T. attempted to commit suicide with sleeping pills.

Experts blame the pressures of school and a lack of attention from families, teachers and administrators for suicides among teenagers who are most vulnerable to depression due to the psychological and physical changes of those formative years.

On September 6, Ho Thi Hong, 22, jumped into the Red River in Hanoi to commit suicide.

Kien, her classmate at Hanoi Industry University, said Hong committed suicide due to depression when her boyfriend left her after she became pregnant.

Her cousin, Ho Van Thanh, said Hong began showing the symptoms of depression symptoms two years ago after failing the university entrance exams twice.

"Her parents are working in Thailand and do not have time for her and her younger sister," he added.

According to a report released at a joint-conference on mental health held by Van Hien University and Worcester University on September 9 in Ho Chi Minh City, one of every five people in Vietnam has a mental disorder.

However, there has not been sufficient awareness of the issue and investment in psychological treatment, it said.

The An Giang General Hospital reported that it has admitted 294 patients after they attempted to commit suicide so far this year.

The suicides and suicide attempts come most commonly after failed romantic relationships, family conflicts and pressures from daily life, the hospital said in a report.

In Hanoi, the Bach Mai Poison Control Center said that almost every day it admits patients who attempt to commit suicide by drinking herbicide.

Notably, most patients are very young and attempt to commit suicide for seemingly insignificant reasons, the hospital reported.

Among the cases was a 17-year-old patient from Thanh Hoa, identified only as D., who attempted to commit suicide recently because his father scolded him for asking for an additional VND100,000 for school supplies after he was given VND400,000.

D. drank herbicide but was found by his father, who rushed him to the hospital.

Fragile teenagers

According to a report on student attitudes by Nguyen Thi Mui from the Hanoi National University of Education, only 3.2 percent of students are "very happy and pleased" about their life.

A majority of respondents, including high school students at Tran Hung Dao and Nguyen Tat Thanh schools, are worried about various issues in life.

Psychological challenges threaten to lead to trauma among nearly 39 percent of the polled students, Mui said.

Around 44 percent of the respondents opt to "silently suffer" from psychological problems and most of the 20 percent who choose to share their problems with someone chose to share with their friends and not their parents, according to the report.

But friends' unfounded advice often worsens the situation, Mui said.

Nguyen Thi Kim Quy, who works for a psychology consultancy hotline, said the service has received more and more requests from children and parents for advice on psychological problems due to pressure from studying.

"Most students said they suffer a lot of pressure from their parents asking them to get good marks on exams," she said.

"Everything is decided by the parents, from choosing what subjects to study and which teacher to study with. They supervise their children for everything, making them depressed and bored and they quickly loose their willingness to study," she said.

Nguyen Van Anh, founder of the Psychological Crisis Prevention Center, said Vietnam has an increasing number of suicides but the issue has not been adequately addressed.

"They committed suicide after a long time of suffering sadness, boredom and desperation. Most of them used to be healthy people who do not have schizophrenia."

Anh said such cases are totally preventable but the people surround those suffering from depression are not equipped with sufficient skills to help.

Psychologist Le Khanh said it is difficult to pinpoint the exact reason for each case of teenage suicide because it can be the result of multiple factors that he summarized as "a lack of responsibility from the family, school and society."

He said children of between 12-18 years old have a high risk of committing suicide because this is the developing stage in which they want to identify themselves and being recognized.

"They want their independence and are willing to oppose anything that the adults want them to do. However, they often feel lonely. They need encouragement and sympathy and not excessive attention or scolding from their parents."

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