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Nurturing Your Mental Health as an Expat in Vietnam

Moving to a foreign country entails adventure filled with new experiences and opportunities. It can be daunting as an expatriate living abroad in a country, such as Vietnam, that is so rich in tradition and cultural norms. Therefore, it is essential to be aware of the potential mental health concerns that may arise during this transition. Adjusting to a new way of life can be overwhelming, and seeking therapy can be a valuable resource in aiding this process. This article discusses the mental health concerns faced by expats as well as highlighting the importance of reaching out to qualified therapists who understand diversified cultures.  

Navigating mental health challenges:

Relocating can bring about a wide range of emotions. While there is excitement for what’s to come, a lingering sense of anxiety, loneliness and homesickness can also be experienced. Not only limiting your willingness to seek out unique experiences, but also negatively impacting your way of life as a whole. Adjusting to new cultural contexts, social norms and language barriers tend to intensify these emotions. This process of acclimatizing, while inevitable, can be tricky for some. As a result, it is crucial to prioritize your mental health along the way, to get the best possible outcome on your overseas adventure. 

Culture shock can be understood as, “the feeling of disorientation experienced by someone when they are suddenly subjected to an unfamiliar culture, way of life, or set of attitudes” (Oxford dictionary). Commonly experienced by expats, it manifests itself within feelings of disorientation, frustration and importantly a sense of isolation. Understanding the cultural differences and navigating ways to overcome this can be beneficial. Which is why seeking professional help and guidance throughout this process can provide significant support. 

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The collective mentality:

Vietnam’s collective mentality is deeply rooted in culture and tradition, and has serious implications on the way mental health is perceived and addressed within its society. It is important to acknowledge this collective mindset and the ways in which these challenges could potentially influence expats’ help-seeking behavior. 

The stigmatization of mental health refers to “the negative or discriminatory attitudes that others have about mental illness” (APA). Historically, Vietnam was widely known to have carried a significant social stigma surrounding mental health and help-seeking behavior. This mentality stems from an emphasis on family harmony and upholding the reputation of the family and community. Usually this emphasis leads to overlooking an individual’s mental health concerns, as it could potentially threaten the families unity or reputation. This further reinforces communication barriers, as individuals experiencing mental health issues may be hesitant to speak up or seek help due to fears of guilt, judgment or even ostracization. Several studies support this, stating “in the cultural context of Asian, Latinos and African Americans, people often take special care of face and family reputation. Face plays an important role in East Asian and Latino cultures regarding stigma of mental illness, and not only affects persons with mental illness, but also families, since that mental illness is recognized as shame and disease of the whole family” (Ran et al, 2021). This is an important factor to take into consideration when seeking help as this stigma can create barriers for expats in accessing appropriate mental health support. This is why finding a therapist who understands diversified cultures is key. 

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However, it is important to note that over the years Vietnam has had a growing recognition of the importance of mental health, and efforts are being made to challenge the traditional views surrounding it. Mental health clinics, such as Tranquil, contribute to this positive shift by fostering awareness, providing support as well as promoting open conversations about mental health. While Vietnam still has a long way to go, by breaking the stigma and embracing a collective approach to mental well-being, the country has the potential to create a more supportive and inclusive environment for the wider community.

The role of therapy:

With all these challenges present, it is essential to prioritize a therapist that has experience working with multicultural backgrounds. This ensures that your therapist has a deeper understanding of the unique issues you face as an expatriate and tailor their therapy accordingly. Seeking therapy is a proactive step towards nurturing your mental health and embracing the full potential of your expat experience. 

By Tranquil Intern: Caitlyn Ly Brownrigg

References:

Ran, M.-S., Hall, B. J., Su, T. T., Prawira, B., Breth-Petersen, M., Li, X.-H., & Zhang, T.-M. (2021). Stigma of mental illness and cultural factors in Pacific Rim region: A systematic review. BMC Psychiatry, 21(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12888-020-02991-5 

Stigma, prejudice and discrimination against people with mental illness. (n.d.). Stigma, Prejudice and Discrimination Against People with Mental Illness. Retrieved June 17, 2023, from

https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/stigma-and-discrimination

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