Mental health issues are growing in the expat communities around the globe. These problems are ubiquitous, affecting people from all walks of life including the wealthy, independent travelers and families of people working overseas. In a recent survey by Aetna, there has been a 20% increase in mental health claims prevalence in Southeast Asia, with women between the ages of 30-49 most likely to seek treatment. Many experts are calling this the silent epidemic.
One of the hardest issues people have is accepting they have a problem and going to see a professional therapist. Some choose to self-medicate in the form of alcohol, drugs or over the counter prescription medicines which only worsens the issue. What many people are unaware of is there is expert help in Saigon.
Even if you do not suffer from some sort of condition, it is always good to have coping mechanisms (or a professional therapist) that help you keep your mind feeling good. This is especially true for expats living in Vietnam.
Just by nature of the cultural and language barriers, the expat life is often fraught with feelings of isolation and anxiety. Expats can seek help to deal with these feelings and enjoy their lifestyle if they know where to look, but the sad fact is that many do not.
Where can i find a good therapist?
Seeing a therapist in Saigon is the most obvious way expats here can improve mental health. Having someone who is a professional in helping you organize your thoughts and formulate a plan of action for your life is EXTREMELY beneficial for anyone, especially those living in a foreign country. But many expats I’ve discussed the topic with do not realize English-language therapists operate in Saigon.
Even if the expat is aware that English therapists are a thing here, they often assume they will be extremely expensive. This is not necessarily true. Therapy sessions with people who were born in Vietnam but got a degree and certifications abroad can be found for only 300.000 VND per hour. One such place is Giang Vu Councelling Pschotherapy. They offer face to face counseling as well as Skype counseling.
Unfortunately, therapy is often something where you cannot compromise on English proficiency. Talking thoroughly about deepest thoughts and feelings can involve some pretty complex ideas and vocabulary. And even though these overseas-certified Vietnamese therapists are generally excellent with English, they may have some issues talking about topics that are too existential.
Because of this, many expats may only want to go with a native English-speaking therapist, which will be significantly more expensive — prepare to pay at least 1.5 million VND per hour. This isn’t a ton of money to pay if you are budgeting for one hour-long session per week; about 280 USD per month. Still, it might not work for expats on a budget. The International Center for Cognitive Development is one such place that is popular for both expats and locals.
So what can you do to maximize your mental health without paying very much money? Well, the first three things to focus on are diet, sleep, and exercise. Everyone knows these things help you look good and live longer, but their tremendous impact on your day-to-day mental health is often left out of the conversation.
Eating a good diet high in nutrients (you should see a nutritionist at least once), getting a good 7-8 hours of sleep per night, and exercising on a regular basis (at least a few times per week) will keep the chemistry of your body chugging along properly. Things like this affect the chemicals sent to your brain, which dictates how happy you feel.
Another way to maintain your mental health as an expat in Saigon is minimizing isolation. Perhaps the most effective way to do this is by taking steps to break free of the “expat bubble.” Instead of socializing only with other expats who are just as isolated as you are, get out into the local community and become part of the city you call home.
Make some Saigonese friends and learn at least a bit of Vietnamese. Take walks around your neighborhood and go get dinner at local food stores instead of ordering in every meal. In short, try and ingratiate yourself with the Vietnamese community. If you feel you are a productive member of society rather than a passenger of the narrow expat community, you’ll be happier.
This is not to say that you should distance yourself from what is familiar. You should always stay close to your expat friends and your family back in your former country — maintaining a support network is crucial to staying mentally fit. But be sure to balance local connections with more familiar ones.
Help for alcoholism.
As mentioned previously, many expats in Saigon choose to self-medicate their mental health issues by becoming alcoholics. This is obviously a bad idea, and it will only destroy your mental health further. Luckily, there are AA meetings in Saigon for those who have already fallen prey to this trap. The meetings are in District 1 on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. There is also one in Thao Dien on Saturday mornings. Unfortunately, NA is not yet present in Saigon.
Speaking of AA, you should keep one of their most important mantras in mind in order to manage your mental health as an expat in Saigon: “Accept the things you cannot change, focus on the things you can, and strive for the wisdom to know the difference.”
For more information about expat life, visit our blog with the latest news about Saigon and Vietnam.