The number of people suffering from mental diseases tends to increase due to the pressures of modern life. However, the country has so few doctors specialising in the field, according to director of the Hanoi Mental Hospital Ly Tran Tinh.

The latest statistics of the Ministry of Health released in March this year showed that the country has only one mental doctor per 100,000 residents, whereas the rate in Thailand and Japan is 12/100,000 and 25/100,000, respectively.

The country has 34 mental hospitals and centres, and 31 provinces do not have any centres specialising in mental diseases.

Typically, the Hanoi Mental Hospital is the main mental hospital in the capital, giving treatment for nearly 20,000 outpatients and 3,500 inpatients per year but with only 40 doctors on staff. As many as 30 more are needed, said Tinh.

About 10 years ago, the Hanoi Medical University had a mental diseases faculty, but over the years it could not enroll enough doctors in the mental health field and recently the university focused on training general doctors. Those specialising in mental disorders became fewer and fewer.

"The hospital was allowed to enroll doctors from other provinces but during the past five years we cannot find anyone, as provincial hospitals also suffer from a shortage of doctors in the field, and they even have to use general physicians for mental health checks," said Tinh.

Tran Thu Trang, a student of the Hanoi Medical University's General Doctor Faculty, said that she did not want to specialise in the mental health sector as it underdeveloped in Vietnam.

In many foreign countries, such as Japan or the US, people are ready to go to psychiatrists or psychologists when they encounter any mental problems. However, Vietnamese often hide their condition as they associate mental diseases with being "mad", said Trang.

"Many people still think that mental patients are creepy and should be avoided," she said.

Trang would rather work on probation in a general hospital without any salary than become enrolled in a mental hospital, as she found that a general hospital offered her a brighter future in her career.

The Hanoi Mental Hospital has some incentive to attract doctors to work in the hospital including opportunities for them to further their studies and other allowances, however, many doctors work for only a few months and then quit the job.

Tinh said: "The main reason is that the salary is so low, about 3-4 million VND (140-190 USD) per month which is not enough for them to make ends meet."

Moreover, some doctors in the hospital are generalists, so they themselves do not have professional knowledge about mental diseases, thus partially affecting the treatment quality.

Government Decree 74, which was put into effect last month, is a positive sign for the mental health sector, as it includes detailed preferential policies for students and lecturers in the sector. The number of doctors in the sector can be improved in the future, said Tinh.

But the more important work is to expand the dissemination of information on mental diseases to change the way residents incorrectly think about these diseases.

"Residents should understand that mental health care is as important as other health care, and mental diseases are no different than other kinds of normal diseases," he said.
Changing wrong attitudes will not only improve the number of people willing to specialise in the field, but it will also improve the quality of mental health care in the future, said Tinh.