Mental Health in Vietnam
Increased stress levels over shortages of food, medical supplies and long periods of isolation have been rising due to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to an August 2021 pandemic impact survey in Vietnam, 62% of surveyed people reported losing their jobs. Reduced work hours and online homeschooling have a significant impact on mental health in Vietnam.

History of Mental Health in Vietnam

Mental health in Vietnam carries a high level of stigma and taboo. In the Vietnamese culture, many believe that mental health is a misfortune. “Benh tam than” is the phrase that people use for mental illness in Vietnamese society and actually means madness or severe psychiatric disorder. Furthermore, psychiatrists in Vietnam are called “Bac si tam than,” which means “doctors who treat madness.”

This use of words shows that mental health carries a stigma — society considers individuals suffering from mental illness as “wild, unpredictable and dangerous people ” who are “daien” and “khung,” which translates to “crazy” and “nuts.” This stigma reflects the biases toward mental health in Vietnam and makes people suffering from mental health issues in Vietnam reluctant to seek help.

Vietnamese society often believes that negative circumstances, including illnesses, serve as punishments for previous sins. Many also believe that “angry ancestral spirits” possess people suffering from mental illness. Families often feel shame when a member of the family struggles with mental illness.


According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 100 million people suffer from mental health issues in the Western Pacific Region. In 2014, Vietnam noted 10 common mental disorders in the nation with prevalence rates between 4.2% and 2.45%, according to National Mental Hospital. Veterans who served in the war are most likely to have a higher rate of mental health issues, specifically post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

A 2018 article says government data indicates that around “15% of the population requires mental health care services.” However, independent research suggests that the rate is 20% to 30% of the population. To prevent and cure mental illnesses, mental health needs more attention within the public health area in Vietnam.

Some of the top mental health problems throughout communities in Vietnam are anxiety, depression and alcoholism. More severe mental disorders, such as schizophrenia, are also present in Vietnam, according to We Bloom.

We Bloom

We Bloom is a nonprofit organization based in Indianapolis, Indiana, that understands that communities can grow and develop with access to essential resources and services to address their particular needs. Before starting its adventure in Vietnam, the co-founders of We Bloom, Kevin Espirito and Beth Kreitl, worked with many NGOs in the U.S. Its goal is to support communities in Vietnam with training, networks and fundraising in the areas of public health and education.

When it comes to addressing mental health, We Bloom has three focus areas: prioritizing high-risk populations, “training and developing professionals” and implementing a national awareness campaign.

In order to improve mental health in Vietnam, We Bloom is implementing a community-based mental health project to train professionals in diagnosing mental conditions and providing counseling to patients. To improve the mental health of children, We Bloom is implementing a school-based counseling strategy.

In March 2020, the organization launched a COVID-19 Vietnam Response project raising more than $15,000 for the people affected most by the COVID-19 pandemic. In April 2021, We Bloom officially received its license to work in Vietnam and is hoping to launch more projects in 2022.

Vietnam’s mental health system is still evolving. With the help of current NGOs recognizing the need for change, people struggling with mental health issues in Vietnam will receive better support and resources.

– Alexis King
Photo: Unsplash

Mental Health in VietnamWhile Vietnam’s growth and development have led to investments in infrastructure, but unfortunately not within the health sector, specifically in terms of mental health care. A 2011 study of “144 low and middle-income countries” ranked Vietnam last in terms of “the availability of mental health care,” with only “1.7 psychiatrists and 11.5 psychosocial care providers” for every 100,000 people. Recognizing the dire need for change, domestic and international organizations are working to improve mental health in Vietnam.

Beautiful Mind Vietnam

Beautiful Mind Vietnam is a nonprofit organization founded in 2015 with a goal of promoting mental health well-being across Vietnamese society. The organization offers cost-free “peer consultation” to people struggling with mental health issues. The organization specifically focuses on the mental health well-being of youth between the ages of 16 and 25 years old.

As Vietnamese society still stigmatizes mental health illnesses, Beautiful Mind Vietnam’s staff members consist of young people seeking to turn the tide of mental health stigma. From diverse backgrounds, the team “[specializes] in psychology, counseling, mental health, biomedicine and pharmacology.” Operating under the guidance of “professional psychologists and psychiatrists,” the organization aims to raise public awareness about mental health “and provide free support for people with mental health concerns.”

Beautiful Mind Vietnam raises awareness on mental health issues and provides educational information to the public “by translating and writing high quality and reliable articles about mental health, mental disorders and related issues that are relevant to Vietnamese context.” In addition to the peer counseling support the organization offers, Beautiful Mind Vietnam offers a safe space for people to express themselves and feel heard. The organizations also sets up mental health workshops and seminars within communities in order to increase mental health awareness and share practices to promote positive mental health.

BasicNeeds Vietnam

BasicNeeds Vietnam is a non-governmental organization that facilitates the elimination of stress and emotional pain and emphasizes “joy and positive energy” in the Vietnamese mental health landscape. Founded in 2010, the organization seeks “to establish a system that supports community development,” nurtures people’s mental health well-being and educates the public on mental health. Through these goals, BasicNeeds Vietnam ensures that Vietnamese people have a deeper understanding of mental health along with tools to manage their stress and mental issues.

BasicNeeds Vietnam intends to provide accurate scientific information on mental and psychological health, contribute to developing Vietnam’s mental health care and advance “basic mental health knowledge professionally.” The organization develops training workshops for the public, provides mental services to those in need and collaborates with other organizations to better facilitate the conversation surrounding mental health. Through these efforts, the organization envisions a Vietnam where everyone can access proper mental health services.

Medical Committee Netherlands­-Vietnam (MCNV)

MCNV is a non-governmental organization founded “in the Netherlands in 1968 to support health development in Vietnam.” The organization seeks to confront the mental health services gap that the Vietnamese government struggles to address while combating mental health stigma in communities. To improve the quality of life for people with mental illness and their families, MCNV partners with “the INGO Global Initiative for Psychiatry and the Provincial Health departments” to implement community-based mental health care in several districts. This community-based model involves training health workers in order to advance their mental health care skills, among other efforts.

These efforts have seen success. The mental health services of health workers who received training improved and “home-based care and counseling” ensured more people can access mental health services. The development of self-help groups in communities helped provide “social support” to people suffering from mental health conditions while reducing societal stigma associated with mental health conditions.

Together, these three NGOs are fighting to improve mental health in Vietnam. Through these combined efforts, Vietnamese people struggling with mental health issues will receive the help they need.

– Tri Truong
Photo: Flickr