A group of young locals and foreigners have teamed up to provide a distance mental health counseling service for Vietnamese teenagers.
The members agree that mental health issues in this age group are present, yet available counseling is inadequate.
So they hope to raise public awareness and provide a lasting service.
“In other countries, there are counseling hotlines for teenagers where they get to express their emotions, but I couldn’t find anything similar in Vietnam,” said Vu Huong Binh, the 17-year-old leader of the BlueBlue club.
“I was motivated, therefore, to establish a counseling service for teenagers.”
In May 2021, Binh and her friends at the United Nations International School of Hanoi officially launched a hotline at 19002904 (extension 3), offering a 24/7 counseling service to teenagers in Vietnam needing mental support.
They also created a Facebook fan page to make sure those who do not wish to communicate over direct phone calls can choose messaging instead.
According to the group, a large number of teenagers are meeting with psychological problems during school closures following the COVID-19 pandemic.
Some, on the other hand, simply need someone to listen to their stories.
The group of over 30 young minds soon got down to brass tacks.
One team is in charge of designing brochures, maintaining the social media fan page, and seeking partnerships and public relations.
Another team, mainly recent college graduates or those with a deep knowledge of counseling psychology, is charged with providing advice under the supervision of certified counselors.
A week into their operation, the team received 14 calls and a lot of text messages from young people in Hanoi who needed help with their mental issues.
“Our hotline acted like a friend who would be willing to listen to things that these teenagers might not feel comfortable telling their family members or friends,” said Binh.
“Callers can remain anonymous.
"They never have to disclose their names or whereabouts.
"Their identities are absolutely confidential.”
In cases where further support is needed, the team would connect their clients with expert clinic counselors.
According to Binh, the idea started with her sending out mere hand-written cards bearing the phrase ‘Keep up your spirits’ to K-12 students in the Vietnamese capital.
After a talk with her father, who is a doctor, she took his advice and started planning a counseling center for teenagers.
The next step was seeking partnerships in business and in media and sourcing counseling psychology graduates.
“In the beginning, we had to multitask," said Ayami Matsumura, a Japanese member of the group.
"We also had great difficulty making the time to meet with our business partners as we were in class.
“Now that we’ve passed the first hurdle, we have learned how to balance our schooling and this project.”
About three years ago, Matsumura came to Vietnam with her parents.
Due to the pandemic, their family has not been able to return to Japan.
During her stay, she has come to recognize the mental health problems that Vietnamese youngsters are going through.
There is pressure from school work and academic achievements, as well as the high expectations from their parents.
Such matters, according to her, are undermined and ignored by the youth and their family and friends.
“The Japanese youth are going through similar problems,” said Matsumura.
“I want to help the Vietnamese in some way.
"This project also makes me feel ‘less sad’ now that I can’t get back home.
"I believe that I am bringing about good values in this tough time.”
Didi Bullard, or Tra My, is a Vietnamese Australian. She and her peers are under a ton of pressure from school.
They found it challenging to balance extracurricular activities and official school hours.
“The only way to let off steam is talking with family or friends,” said Bullard.
“But if you don’t feel comfortable or secure doing it this way, then call us at our hotline.”
The young group aims to provide support for around 260 cases from now until the end of August.
At the same time, they will promote their social media page in order to spread the sense of positive thinking to the community.
It will help if parents join in and offer their confidence.
When parents understand the trouble their children are going through, they can learn the patience and technique for proper conversation.
“After the hotline calls, many have sent us thank-you tokens," said Binh.
"They feel grateful because they got the help they needed.
“Some calls were made at 1:00 or 2:00 am.”
Binh and her team hope to keep their project a permanent service as they aspire to raise public awareness of teenagers’ mental health problems.
“We hope to create better and more affordable counseling centers for school students.”