Chief of Child Survival and Development Program of UNICEF Vietnam, Mr. Friday Nwaigwe addressed the event (Photo: H.H)

Mental health and psychosocial problems are widespread and increasing in Vietnam, particularly among children and youthe, and despite some progress the service environment and response for Vietnam remains largely inadequate. The lack of mental health services is particularly acute in remote provinces, and is unable to prevent suicide and treat mental health disorders, which are often at the heart of suicidal ideation and attempts.

Addressing the event, Chief of Child Survival and Development Program of UNICEF Vietnam, Mr. Friday Nwaigwe said: “Every child has the fundamental right to life and maximum survival and development, as well as the right to the highest attainable standard of health. Mental health problems in childhood generate costs in adulthood. If left untreated, these conditions severely compromise children’s development, their educational attainments and their potential to live fulfilling and productive lives”.

“Children with mental disorders face major challenges with stigma, isolation and discrimination, as well as lack of access to health care and education facilities, in violation of their fundamental human rights,” he added.

High pressure for youth during exams
The study highlights that while fledgling mental health and psychosocial services are provided through, among others, social welfare and social protection centres, mental health hospitals and psychosocial units in schools, their quality and coverage is limited, and they often focus on severe mental health disorders. 

According to the Ministry of Health’s Department of Medical Examination and Treatment, in terms of doctors, the human resources, specialized in child psychiatry are very limited in Vietnam. This aspect is largely not being focused on; therefore, in-depth diagnosis and treatment for children with mental disorders are currently very limited.

While MOLISA Vice Minister Dao Hong Lan emphasised that the findings of the study provide evidence to inform line sectors and provinces on the development and implementation of comprehensive service systems to respond to the needs of mental health and psychosocial support for children and young people in Vietnam.

The report points to a number of recommendations, among which the importance for the Vietnamese Government is to strengthen and increase the quantity and quality of human resources for mental health in the public sector, as well as the number and type of services, particularly those focusing on less severe mental health problems. The study also emphasises the importance of raising awareness of the need to address children and young people’s psychosocial well-being, all of which cannot be accomplished without appropriate policy frameworks, budgetary allocations and collaboration among different sectors.

Overview of the workshop
Based on a series of interviews with service providers, adults, children and young people, the study highlights the importance of a supportive family environment, good social and peer networks, supportive teachers and role models as protective factors. Higher socio-economic household status also lessens burdens on children, thereby alleviating some potential stresses, as do the availability of services.

This research confirms suicidal ideation and suicide attempts are an issue in Vietnam, and particularly among children and youth, and also looks at the main perceptions around this issue. While the rate of suicide among adolescents in Vietnam is relatively low compared with other countries in the region, there is growing concern that suicide in Vietnam is on the rise and actions need to be taken to address this issue.

The study aims to provide an overview of mental health of Vietnamese children and youth. Findings from this study will inform recommendations on how to address children and youth’s mental health, and will feed into both existing national level programs, including the National Program on Social Support and Rehabilitation for People with Mental Illness and the National Targeted Program on Health, as well as future programming and legal frameworks that are being planned including the National Strategy on Mental Health, 2016-2025, with a view to 2030./.

Mental disorders are defined as “a combination of abnormal thoughts, perceptions, emotions, behaviour and relationships with others,” whereas biologically based disorders can include depression, bipolar affective disorder, schizophrenia and other psychoses, dementia, intellectual disabilities and developmental disorders including autism (WHO, fact sheet 2016).