As World Health Day approaches, it’s important to keep in mind that this subject covers more than just physical health, as mental health is just as important to an individual’s wellbeing.
According to the World Health Organization, one in four people globally are impacted by mental health issues at some point in their lives.
Ela Partoredjo, Senior Manager Wellbeing at RMIT Vietnam, plays a key role in the University’s effort to help students maintain their mental health amid the various stresses they face.
“Let’s start with some of the common academic pressures,” she said.
“In a traditional Vietnamese school students are exposed to a lot of rote learning, and then they come to RMIT and face this different style of learning where it’s more about active engagement with your peers, with your teachers and industry representatives, and in the classroom in general; there’s a lot more experiential learning here.
“Making that transition from classroom-based rote learning to what we do here is quite anxiety-provoking.”
Parental expectation is another source of pressure. Many Vietnamese parents send their children for extra classes starting from a young age, and this burden to succeed academically continues through to university.
Beyond school, students face challenges at home as well, from money problems to marriage. While Vietnam is developing rapidly, many parents still expect their children, particularly daughters, to follow the traditional path of marrying young and starting a family, after which they will care for the children while their husband works.
“It’s still the traditional value of the need to get married by a certain age, so education might be something that is secondary to this,” she added.
Fortunately, RMIT Vietnam offers a range of mental health services for students.
“Safer Community is an initiative designed for students feel safe, so that they can raise issues including things like sexual harassment, whether that occurs on or off campus. We’ll provide support for students.”
Other common problems which can impact mental health are cyber-bullying and peer bullying, which students can also address through RMIT’s mental wellbeing experts.
“We also have a counselling service which tends to students who have some psychosocial needs,” Ms Partoredjo continued.
“Counselling to address psychological needs is not readily accessible out in the community, and is often not affordable.
“The premise that we work on here is that where there are academic struggles, there may also be psychological or familial issues that need to be addressed so that students can be successful on their academic path.”
Such efforts, sadly, are still rare. Mental health awareness in Vietnam is generally low, meaning responses to mental health issues are often poor, while social stigmas keep many from opening up about their interior struggles.
“The view toward mental health is still in its early inception,” Ms Partoredjo explained.
“While there’s a little bit of information about the common mental health issues such as anxiety, depression and stress, the response to it is not where we want it to be.”
On World Health Day, the main message the wellbeing expert wants to spread is that physical and mental health cannot be viewed separately.
“When we think of World Health Day we automatically go to physical health, exercise and diet,” Ms Partoredjo said.
“I think it’s extremely important to start the ball rolling and thinking about how, when your physical health is compromised, that will always have an impact on your mental health, and vice versa. So look at health from a more holistic perspective.”
Story: Michael Tatarski